The resurgent star power of Oscar-nominee Eddie Murphy droveParamount's Norbit straight to the top of the North American box officechart this weekend with a plus-size estimated gross of $33.7m.

TheDreamWorks-produced comedy more than doubled the take of the weekend'sother new wide release, MGM/Weinstein prequel Hannibal Rising.

Norbit - in which Murphy plays the nerdy title character, hisoverweight wife and his Chinese father figure - becomes the secondbiggest live-action opener of its star's career, bettered only by2000's The Nutty Professor II (which started with $42.3m and went on totake $123.3m domestically).

Critics slammed, the broad comedy directed by Brian Robbins butaudiences responded better than expected to the multi-character actthat Murphy, who also co-wrote the screenplay, last performed in theNutty Professor movies. Playing in 3,136 cinemas, the film averaged$10,759 per site.

Horror thriller Hannibal Rising, distributed by the Weinstein Co, came insecond with its estimated gross of $13.4m from 3,003 cinemas (for a$4,446 average).

Based on the Thomas Harris novel about the early life of Silence Of TheLambs psycho Hannibal Lecter, the film features French actor GaspardUlliel as Lecter and Chinese star Gong Li.

Reviews were damning, and without the presence of franchise mainstayAnthony Hopkins the prequel did not come close to the openings ofprevious franchise entries Red Dragon and Hannibal.

In third place, Universal's romantic comedy Because I Said So, whichopened last weekend at number two, dropped by only 31% for an estimatedgross of $9m from 2,529 cinemas (for a $3,575 average). Total gross forthe film reached $25.6m.

Sony's chiller The Messengers, which opened last weekend at number one,fell by 51% and slid to fourth place, with an estimated $7.2m from2,529 cinemas (average - $2,847), for a total of $24.7m.

Fox's sturdy Night At The Museum went nearly 600 cinemas wider in itseighth week but saw its gross slip 10% to an estimated $5.8m from 2,702theatres (average - $2,128). Total stands at $232.1m.

Fox's Epic Movie was down 47% in its third week to $4.4m from 2,806 cinemas (average - $1,586), for a total of $35.5m.

Universal's Smokin' Aces fell 38% in its third week with an estimated$3.8m from 2,199 theatres (average - $1,725) and a total of $30.8m.

Three releases buoyed by awards attention rounded out the top ten. Picturehouse's Pan's Labyrinth added 60 theatres in its seventh weekand kept its estimated weekend gross almost steady at $3.5m from 1,143sites (average - $3,106). The fantasy's domestic total now stands at$26.6m.

Paramount's Dreamgirls - the DreamWorks production for which Murphy gothis Academy Award nomination - lost 500 cinemas in its ninth week andsaw its gross drop 23% to an estimated $3.1m from 2,284 sites (average- $1,354). With a $97.1m domestic total to date the musical shouldcross the $100m mark next weekend.

In its twentieth week, Miramax's The Queen lost 300 sites but droppedonly 5% to $2.5m from 1,564 (average - $1,605). Currently at $49m, thefilm will this week pass the $50m domestic gross milestone.

Next week's wide releases are: Sony's comic book-based action horrorouting Ghost Rider, with David S Goyer directing Nicolas Cage; Warner'sromantic comedy Music And Lyrics, starring Hugh Grant and DrewBarrymore, with Marc Lawrence directing; Buena Vista and Walden Media'sfamily fantasy/adventure Bridge To Terabithia, with Gabor Csupodirecting; Lionsgate romantic comedy Daddy's Little Girl, fromwriter-director Tyler Perry, who stars with Gabrielle Union; andUniversal's spy drama Breach, with Ryan Phillippe and Chris Cooperstarring and Billy Ray directing.

Estimated Top Ten North America Feb 9-11, 2007
Film (Distributor)/International distribution/Estimated weekend gross/Estimated total to date

1 (-) Norbit (Paramount) PPI $33.7m -
2 (-) Hannibal Rising (MGM/Weinstein) De Laurentiis $13.4m -
3 (2) Because I Said So (Universal/Gold Circle) Mandate/UPI $9m $25.6m
4 (1) The Messengers (Screen Gems) Mandate/SPRI $7.2m $24.7m
5 (4) Night At The Museum (Fox) Fox Int'l $5.8m $232.1m
6 (3) Epic Movie (Fox) Fox Int'l $4.4m $35.5m
8 (8) Pan's Labyrinth (Picturehouse) Wild Bunch $3.5m $26.6m
9 (7) Dreamgirls (Paramount) PPI $3.1m $97.1m
10 (9) The Queen (Miramax) Pathe $2.5m $49m