Universal's Hannibal Lecter horror thriller Red Dragon scored the highest ever October opening over the weekend as it scorched to the top of the charts with a redoubtable $37.5m, according to estimates released today (Sunday). Although this was considerably less than the $58m opening for MGM's Hannibal in February 2001 bow, studio executives will be heartened by a terrific start, underwritten by the public's insatiable appetite for Anthony Hopkins' hammy yet bewitching Lecter. The events in the film predate The Silence Of The Lambs and Hannibal, and covers the same ground in Michael Mann's Manhunter. Mann's 1986 adaptation of the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon became a cult hit and grossed $8.6m. Red Dragon will prefer to set its sights on Hannibal's $165.1m box office mark. The picture was directed by Brett Ratner, whose credits include Rush Hour and Rush Hour 2, and stars Ed Norton as the detective who seeks advice on the whereabouts of an active serial killer from the incarcerated Lecter. Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel and Emily Watson also star. Red Dragon received mostly good reviews and averaged $11,170 from 3,357 venues.

The other major story of the weekend was My Big Fat Greek Wedding's new status as the most successful independent film of all time. In its 25th week on release the leggy romantic comedy overtook the previous record of $140.5m set by Artisan's The Blair Witch Project in 1999. Wedding held firm in fourth place and grossed $8.5m for a staggering $147.98m cumulative score. It cost an estimated $5m to make. There was good news for Artisan, however, as its animated religious education piece, Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie, opened in sixth place on an excellent $6.5m, averaging $6,914 from 940 venues. Based on a series of video releases that use talking vegetables to tell Biblical stories, Jonah drew mostly good reviews. It expands into North East America on October 18.

In second place was last weekend's Disney topper, Sweet Home Alabama, on $21.6m in its second week. The romantic comedy has a $65.6m running total and looks a dead cert for $100m, consolidating star Reese Witherspoon's place as an A-list opener with wide appeal. Action comedy The Tuxedo slipped one place to third with a $10.1m haul for DreamWorks that puts its cumulative score after ten days on $28.1m. The only other new entry in the top ten was Disney's epochal drama Moonlight Mile, which stars Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon, Jake Gyllenhaal and Ellen Pompeo, who appears in Daredevil for Fox next year. Moonlight Mile jumped 11 places with a $2m that boosts its cumulative score in its second week to $2.4m.

Overall box office rose for the fourth consecutive week as the top 12 movies combined for $103.2m, up 24% from the same weekend last year. Next weekend's massive Columbus Day Weekend release schedule includes Michelle Pfeiffer in the Warner Bros drama White Oleander; Disney's family romance Tuck Everlasting; the Miramax supernatural thriller Below, starring British actress Olivia Williams; and Paul Thomas Anderson's comedy Punch-Drunk Love for Columbia.

Estimated Top Ten US October 4-6, 2002

Film (Distributor)/International distribution/Estimated weekend gross/Estimated total to date

1 (-) Red Dragon (Universal) UIP $37.5m --

2 (1) Sweet Home Alabama (Buena Vista) BVI $21.6m $65.6m

3 (2) The Tuxedo (DreamWorks) UIP $10.1m $28.1m

4 (4) My Big Fat Greek Wedding (IFC Films) Vortex Pictures $8.48m $147.98m

5 (3) Barbershop (MGM) Fox International $6.8m $60.18m

6 (-) Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie (Artisan) $6.5m --

7 (5) The Banger Sisters (Fox Searchlight) Fox International $3.57m $24.38m

8 (6) The Four Feathers (Paramount) Miramax International $2.09m $15.55m

9 (20) Moonlight Mile (Buena Vista) BVI $2m $2.4m

10 (7) One Hour Photo (Fox Searchlight) Fox International $1.72m $28.77m