Julia Roberts confirmed her place in the very highest pantheon of movie stars over the weekend with a spectacular $28.2m opening for her latest tour de force Erin Brockovich. The story of a real-life single mother who won a record settlement for victims of water contamination, the movie had won rave reviews and extraordinarily strong word-of-mouth in the lead-up to its release on Friday. Universal has domestic rights and Columbia TriStar international rights on the movie which is directed by Steven Soderbergh.

Roberts has now starred in seven movies which have crossed the $100m barrier - Pretty Woman, Sleeping With The Enemy, Hook, The Pelican Brief, My Best Friend's Wedding, Notting Hill and Runaway Bride. Erin Brockovich is set to be number eight.

The movie is her second highest opener ever - after last summer's Runaway Bride which opened with $35.1m - and the second highest March opening ever after 1997's Liar Liar which opened with $31.4m.

The movie overshadowed the remaining pictures in the top ten. Disney's critically hammered sci-fi epic Mission To Mars dropped 52% in its second weekend to take $10.9m, while New Line's teen horror picture Final Destination opened with a so-so $10.2m for a screen average of $3,943.

Meanwhile, as expected, Oscar frontrunner American Beauty sailed past the $100m barrier - the 20th film opening in 1999 to do so. The other 19 were Analyze This, The Matrix, The Mummy, Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace, Notting Hill, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, The General's Daughter, Big Daddy, Tarzan, Runaway Bride, American Pie, Wild Wild West, The Blair Witch Project, The Sixth Sense, Double Jeopardy, Toy Story 2, The World Is Not Enough, The Green Mile and Stuart Little.

Both American Beauty and The Cider House Rules stand to enjoy at least one more successful week before Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony where both are likely to pick up statuettes.


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

1 (-) Erin Brockovich (Universal) Columbia TriStar $28.2m --
2 (1) Mission To Mars (Buena Vista) BVI/Spyglass $10.9m $40.1m
3 (-) Final Destination (New Line) New Line International $10.2m --
4 (3) My Dog Skip (Warner Bros) Warner Bros $5.5m $21.8m
5 (2) The Ninth Gate (Artisan) Summit $3.5m $12.5m
6 (4) The Whole Nine Yards (Warner Bros) Franchise Pictures $3.2m $51m
7 (5) American Beauty (DreamWorks) UIP $2.9m $102.7m
8 (6) The Cider House Rules (Miramax) Miramax International $2.4m $45.7m
9 (9) Snow Day (Paramount) UIP $2.2m $56.4m
10 (re) The Tigger Movie (Buena Vista) BVI $1.9m $41.7m