USA Films' critical favourite Traffic opened on a high in its first weekend of wide release.

The Steven Soderbergh picture secured the highest screen average in the top ten - $9,991. Taking the number three spot, the film grossed $14.9m from 1,510 theatres.

That result surpassed the expectations of many who had thought it too complex and dark for a mainstream audience. The film tells three storylines on drug trafficking concurrently over 147 mins.

Financed and sold internationally by Initial Entertainment Group (IEG), Traffic should continue to play well as it sweeps up awards aplenty and some of the best reviews of the year. On Saturday, it won the Best Director prize for Soderbergh at the annual awards announcement from the National Society Of Film Critics. The society also awarded a supporting actor prize to the film's Benicio Del Toro.

The picture's total gross, taking into consideration its platform release last weekend, is now $15.4m.

Ahead of Traffic and continuing to play spectacularly were Twentieth Century Fox's Cast Away and Paramount's What Women Want. Cast Away retained the top spot with a massive $24.1m in its third weekend for a 17-day total of $143.5m. What Women Want took $15.5m to bring its total after four weekends to $137.8m.

The box office was surprisingly robust for the weekend after New Year. It was up 31% from the same period in 2000. Next weekend also looks strong as two more prestige pictures - New Line's Thirteen Days and Columbia's Finding Forrester - go wide.

Meanwhile Universal's The Grinch finally dropped, falling 67% from last weekend to take just $2.4m. Its total is a whopping $257.7m.

Film (Distributor)/International distribution/Estimated weekend gross/Estimated total to date
1 (-) Cast Away (20th Century Fox) DreamWorks $24.1m $143.5m
2 (2) What Women Want (Paramount) Icon International $15.5m --
3 (-) Traffic (USA Films) IEG $14.9m $15.4m
4 (3) Miss Congeniality (Warner Bros) Warner Bros $13.8m $66.2m
5 (4) The Family Man (Universal) Beacon Communications $9.2m $56.3m
6 (5) The Emperor's New Groove (Buena Vista) BVI $7m $62m
7 (7) Vertical Limit (Columbia) Columbia TriStar $5m $59.3m
8 (8) Wes Craven Presents Dracula 2000 (Dimension) Miramax International $4.2m $28m
9 (9) Dude, Where's My Car' (20th Century Fox) Fox International $3.8m $41.4m
10 (11) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Sony Classics) Good Machine International $3.7m $18.8m