Warner Bros' ill-fatedhorror prequel Exorcist: The Beginning opened top at the weekend on anestimated $18.2m, exceeding expectations at the studio, which was so afraid ofa critical mauling it refused to schedule previews.

The picture, whose chequeredproduction history entailed a re-shoot and three directors, stars StellanSkarsgard as a young Father Lankester Merrin - played by Max Von Sydow inWilliam Friedkin's 1973 original - in his first encounter with the Devil inpost-second world war Africa.

James D'Arcy and IzabellaScorupco also star in Renny Harlin's feature, which averaged $6,484 from 2,803screens and did indeed elicit atrocious reviews from those critics who botheredto file a write-up.

Opening in second place wasParamount's comedy Without A Paddle, which stars Seth Green, MatthewLillard and Dax Shepard as urbanites who embark upon a fateful trip off thebeaten track.

It averaged $5,018 from2,730 screens and also drew poor reviews. Steven Brill directed.

The star of the show wasarguably Lions Gate's stranded-at-sea thriller Open Water, whichexpanded to 2,709 screens in its third weekend and jumped 12 places to fifth on$11.8m for a $14.8m running total.

Elsewhere, Buena Vista's PrincessDiaries 2 slipped one place to third on $13.2m for $61.4m in its secondweekend, while Fox's Alien Vs Predator fell three to fourth on $12.5mfor $63.1m, also in its second weekend.

Universal's thriller sequel TheBourne Supremacy passed $150m in its fifth weekend, slipping two to seventhon $6.6m for $150.6m.

Columbia's Spider-Man 2exited the top 10 for the first time in its eight-week run as it fell two to 12thon $2.5m for $365.3m.

Overall the top 12 picturesgrossed $102.9m, down 16% from last weekend but a rise of 21% against the sameperiod last year.

Next weekend's wide releasesinclude Sony's action sequel Anacondas: The Hunt For The Blood Orchid,starring Johnny Messner and Morris Chestnut; Sony's children's sequel Superbabies:Baby Genuises 2 starring Jon Voigt and Scott Baio; Paramount's serialkiller thriller Suspect Zero, starring Ben Kingsley and Aaron Eckhart;and Miramax's martial arts extravaganza Hero, which stars Jet Li andTony Leung.

Estimated Top Ten US Aug 20-22 2004
Film (Distributor)/International distribution/Estimated weekend gross/Estimatedtotal to date

1 (-) Exorcist: The Beginning (Warner Bros)Warner Bros $18.2m -
2 (-)Without A Paddle (Paramount) UIP $13.7m -
3 (2) Princess Diaries 2: The Royal Engagement (Buena Vista) BVI $13.2m$61.4m
4 (1) Alien Vs Predator (Fox ) Fox Int'l $12.5m $63.1m
5 (17) Open Water (Lions Gate) LGI $11.8m $14.8m
6 (3) Collateral (DreamWorks) UIP $10.5m $70.1m
7 (5) The Bourne Supremacy (Universal) UIP $6.6m $150.6m
8 (7) The Manchurian Candidate (Paramount) UIP $4.2m $54.7m
9 (6) The Village (Buena Vista) BVI $3.7m $107m
10 (13) Garden State (Fox Searchlight) Fox Int'l $3.2m $6.7m