Buena Vista International's CIA thriller The Recruit expanded from one to 381 sites in its second weekend on release in the UK and swept straight to the top of the chart with $1.4m (£920,472).
The wide opening of The Recruit kept other new hopefuls, including day-and-date launch The Core, off the top and knocked last week's leader, romantic comedy Just Married, into second. The Recruit had previously been platformed for a single week in London's Odeon Leicester Square and has grossed $1.5m (£975,789) to date.
The Core, distributed by UIP, dug its way into third place with an underwhelming $914,166 (£583,238). Playing at 395 sites the disaster movie scored a lacklustre average of $2,314 per location. It performed well below comparable disaster titles Volcano ($1.5m opening from 309 sites in Oct 1997), Dante's Peak ($1.5m from 298 in March 1997) and Deep Impact ($2.8m from 379 in May 1999) which went on to gross $4.95m (£3.2m), $6.4m (£4.1m) and $16m (£10.2m) respectively.
Romantic comedies formed the mantle this weekend, surrounding The Core on both sides. 20th Century Fox's Just Married dropped off 34% from its launch weekend and took $951,298 (£606,928) from 333 sites for second place. Meanwhile Columbia TriStar's Maid In Manhattan - Jennifer Lopez's biggest UK hit - followed suit also dropping 34% for fourth place and an $843,487 (£538,145) weekend. After four weeks on release Wayne Wang's comedy has grossed $10.7m (£6.9m) in the UK and Ireland.
Jet Li actioner Cradle 2 The Grave, released by Warner Bros, claimed fifth, opening with $587,677 (£374,938). Playing at 201 sites the film showed an average of $2,924 per location.
The only other opener to hit the top 15 was Icon Film Distribution's The Rules Of Attraction. Roger Avary's uncompromising adaptation of Brett Easton Ellis' novel of the same name took seventh place with $356,632 (£227,531). Showing at 103 venues the film, which garnered positive reviews, scored an average of $3,462 - second only in this weekend's top 15 chart to The Recruit ($3,787). The Rules Of Attraction played especially strongly at 12 venues in London's West End where the film ranked second for the weekend (again behind The Recruit) with $77,281 (£49,305) - an average of $6,440.
The previous weekend's Oscar results gave a boost to BVI's Chicago (which won best picture amongst its six gongs) and Pathe's The Pianist (best director/actor/adapted screenplay) which saw rises of 44% and 71% respectively. Chicago added just two addition sites to record a weekend (its 14th) of $379,199 (£241,929) from 270 venues for sixth place. The musical has taken $24.5m (£15.6m) since opening on Dec 26 last year. The Pianist added 14 sites this week, taking it to 93, for a return into the chart with $192,448 (£122,782) in 13th.
Two limited release openers played well outside the chart. Michael Winterbottom's In This World, recipient of this year's Golden Bear at the Berlin film festival, was released in five locations by ICA for a three-day result of $20,558 (£13,116) - an average of $4,112, the best of any film on release over the weekend. Meanwhile Bollywood release Ek Aur Ek Gyarah, from Eros International, claimed $56,808 (£36,243) from 15 sites for a $3,787 average.
Overall the box office for the top 15 dropped off another 4% from last weekend and was down 53% down from the same weekend in 2002 - although that was Easter weekend when Blade II opened and Ice Age and Ali G IndaHouse where in their second week's capitalising on school holidays which are yet to come this year with Easter not falling until April 20.