In a record-breaking opening of a US film at the Italian box office, Hannibal has grossed a chilling $3,678,089 (l7,705,597,000) in three days from 322 theatres, taking an average $11,423 per screen.

Previous all-time highs were registered by The Blair Witch Project ($3,593,327) and Titanic ($3,094,541).

Distributor FilmAuro's impressive takings were apparently boosted by the Italian censors' decision to give the thriller an unrestricted release, unlike the US where the movie is R-rated. The board's decision, made last week and said to have been based on the film's ironic tone, caused a political uproar which led FilmAuro chief Aurelio De Laurentiis, the nephew of Hannibal producer Dino De Laurentiis, to ask theatres not to let under-14s in to see the movie.

The MGM-Universal co-production, whose Italian showdown was its first overseas opening, beat stiff competition from fellow newcomer What Women Want. The Mel Gibson-starrer took $2,036,048 from 227 screens for local distributor Medusa, with a three-day screen average of $8,969.

The two new US arrivals largely eclipsed UIP's hit comedy Meet The Parents, which slipped from top to third place after two weeks, grossing $1,854,109 - down 22% on the previous week.

Meanwhile, Medusa's local bittersweet comedy The Last Kiss (L'Ultimo Bacio), directed by Gabriele Muccino, was up 57% in its second week, grossing $843,604 from 147 screens. Oscar hopeful Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon failed to match its overseas success, taking $332,936 in its second week, with a screen average of $4,825 from 69 theatres.