Warner Bros' action thriller Cradle 2 The Grave opened in first place over the weekend on $17.1m, according to studio estimates released today (Mar 2). The martial arts-hip-hop picture was the only major bow of the weekend as the studios pace themselves in the run-up to the Academy Awards on Mar 23 and it proved too strong for the competition, keeping DreamWorks' comedy Old School in second place and shunting Fox/Regency's Daredevil into third.

However the big story of the weekend, as it has been so often over the past couple of months, was Chicago. Miramax's Broadway adaptation passed $100m at the box office and further boosted its Oscar credentials when director Rob Marshall took top honours at Saturday's DGA awards. Leading the field with 13 nominations, the picture is now the firm favourite for Oscar glory in three weeks' time.

Cradle 2 The Grave shrugged off poor reviews to score a hit with weekend audiences. Rising star DMX plays the leader of a gang of sympathetic jewel thieves who become involved with international arms dealers and a Taiwanese police officer (Jet Li). The pyrotechnics-laden picture also stars Anthony Anderson (Me, Myself And Irene), Tom Arnold (True Lies) and Gabrielle Union (Bring It On) and was directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak (Exit Wounds). The picture averaged a decent $6,520 from 2,625 sites.

Old School remained in second place on $13.9m for a $37.2m running total after 10 days, while Daredevil fell 39% from last weekend with an $11m haul that gives it an $84.1m running total in its fourth week on release. Staying in fifth was Chicago, which added another $8.1m for a tremendous $105.2m cumulative score after 10 weeks.

Paramount's romantic comedy How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days slipped one place to fourth on $10.1m for $77.5m in its fourth week, while Buena Vista's The Jungle Book 2 fell 22% and two places to sixth on $6.8m and a $33.6m running total in its third week. Staying put in seventh was another Disney picture, the action-comedy Shanghai Knights, which took $4.8m in its fourth week for $50.7m.

Universal/Intermedia's drama The Life Of David Gale continued its miserable run since it opened last week, falling two to eighth on $4.4m for a $13.5m running score. The three-and-a-half hour civil war drama Gods And Generals dropped one to ninth on $2.8m for $8.8m after 10 days for Warner Bros, while Buena Vista's spy thriller The Recruit stayed in tenth on $2.6m for $48m in its fifth week. MGM/Intermedia's police thriller Dark Blue dropped to 11th place on $2.2m and has taken just $7.3m in 10 days.

Overall the top 12 pictures produced an $85.8m box office take, which represented a 10% drop from last weekend but a 4.6% rise against the same period last year. Next weekend's wide releases include Buena Vista/Hyde Park's comedy Bringing Down The House, starring Steve Martin and Queen Latifah; and Columbia/Revolution's action picture Tears Of The Sun, starring Bruce Willis and Monica Bellucci and directed by Antoine Fuqua in his follow-up to Training Day.

Estimated Top Ten US February 28-March 2, 2003

Film (Distributor)/International distribution/Estimated weekend

gross/Estimated total to date

1 (-) Cradle 2 The Grave (Warner Bros) Warner Bros $17.1m --

2 (2) Old School (DreamWorks) UIP $13.9m $37.2m

3 (1) Daredevil (Fox) Fox International/Regency $11m $84.1m

4 (3) How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days (Paramount) UIP $10.1m $77.5m

5 (5) Chicago (Miramax) Miramax International $8.1m $105.2m

6 (4) The Jungle Book 2 (Buena Vista) BVI $6.8m $33.7m

7 (7) Shanghai Knights (Buena Vista) BVI/Spyglass $4.8m $50.7m

8 (6) The Life Of David Gale (Universal) Intermedia $4.4m $13.5m

9 (8) Gods And Generals (Warner Bros) Warner Bros $2.8m $8.8m

10 (10) The Recruit (Buena Vista) BVI/Spyglass $2.6m $48m