One of the last event blockbusters on release in Australia this winter, The Patriot, took $1.6m (A$2.8m) from 325 screens on its opening four-day weekend (July 20-23). This gave the Australian office of Columbia TriStar its third biggest opening weekend ever and knocked last weekend's opener X-Men off the top spot. But it failed to beat Col TriStar's top openers Stuart Little with $2.8m and Erin Brockovich with $2.5m in April this year.

The American War of Independence drama is expected to have longer box office legs in Australia than it had in the US or UK aided by the lack of upcoming blockbuster competition. Columbia TriStar's managing director Stephen Basil-Jones has predicted a final gross of between $8.8m-$11.8m (A$15m-$20m). Also of assistance in attracting cinema-goers will be the MA (15 years and over) rating, which is more sympathetic than the R rating (restricted under 17 years) it scored in the US.

The presence of the homegrown Heath Ledger and one-time resident Mel Gibson in The Patriot attracted considerable media attention. In fact, the number of Australian stars - or adopted sons - in US films has helped distributors break a number of in-house records over the last few months. Gladiator, with Russell Crowe, will probably break the A$30m barrier this week and MI:2, with in-law Tom Cruise, gave UIP Australia's third biggest weekend in history. Then last week, X-Men, with Hugh Jackman, gave 20th Century Fox its third biggest result yet.

Australia's Top 5 Event Movie Openers May-July 2000

Title (Distrib)/Release Date/Opening 7-day gross

1. Mission: Impossible 2 (UIP) June 1 $4,819,251
2. Gladiator (UIP) May 4 $4,534,400
3. Gone In 60 Seconds (BVI) June 29 $3,148,846
4. X-Men (20th Fox) July 13 $2,745,931
5. The Perfect Storm (Roadshow) June 29 $2,190,175