It was a so-so weekend at the box office in North America, down 23% from last year despite the opening of 20th Century Fox's tentpole picture Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World and a powerhouse second weekend performance from New Line Cinema's Elf.

Playing on 44 more screens than in its opening weekend, Elf dropped just 15% to score the biggest gross of the weekend $26.3m and a total after ten days of $70.3m. Master And Commander, meanwhile, came in with a stirring $25.1m on 3,101 screens, scoring the highest per screen average in the top 30 of $8,096 per screen.

A decidedly intelligent action adventure, Master And Commander won excellent reviews, should reap strong word-of-mouth and play consistently throughout the season especially with Oscar talk on the film now so strong. The $150m movie, which stars Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany, is a co-venture between Fox, Miramax and Universal, although Fox has worldwide distribution rights.

Warner Bros did not have a strong weekend with its expensive Looney Tunes: Back In Action, a blend of live action and animation which opened on $9.3m - a distinct disappointment compared to the $27.5m opening by Warner's previous attempt at the same formula Space Jam in 1996. Brendan Fraser and Jenna Elfman were clearly no match for Michael Jordan.