Having narrowly missed out on being the top performing UK distributor of 2002 to 20th Century Fox, Entertainment Film Distributors is off to a flying start in 2003.

The company still holds two top five positions with The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers - placed third this week with $2.7m (£1.6m) - and Gangs Of New York ($1.8m for fourth), and this week saw a strong opening for its comedy drama About Schmidt.

About Schmidt was just one of multiple openers this weekend but with $1.2m (£756,733) from 222 sites it scored the strongest screen average of any of the new releases to make the top 15 - $5,561. Star Jack Nicholson picked up a Golden Globe award for his leading performance the previous weekend and received a BAFTA nomination for the role on Monday.

The Two Towers has taken $40.8m (£25m) so far in 2003 bringing its cumulative total to $83.4m (£51.2m). Gangs Of New York has taken $12.8m (£7.9m) since opening on Jan 10.

Still way out in front at the head of the pack was UIP's 8 Mile. The film dropped off a negligible 37% from its opening weekend this week to take $4.1m (£2.5m) from 423 sites for an average of $9,697 per location. The drama, which marks the acting debut of controversial US rapper Eminem, has grossed $14.1m (£8.6m) after 10 days on release. Next week it is likely to relinquish the lead to UIP stablemate Catch Me If You Can.

BVI's musical Chicago expanded a further 48 sites to 324 and thus dropped just 3% on the previous week. The film, which with Gangs Of New York heads the BAFTA nomination roster with 12, claimed second place with $3.1m (£1.9m) over the weekend. It has taken $9.1m (£5.6m) after five weeks on release, however the first three weeks were an exclusive platform release at Leicester Square's Warner West End cinema.

Several other films saw good launches this weekend. Columbia TriStar's I Spy led the pack in fifth place with $1.4m (£878,229). The Eddie Murphy-Owen Wilson comedy scored a solid average of $5,248 from 273 locations.

Warner Bros' Ghost Ship, the latest horror title from Dark Castle Entertainment which previously produced House On Haunted Hill (which took $6m for Warner Bros in the UK in 2000) and Thirteen Ghosts ($3.5m for Columbia TriStar in 2002), landed sixth place with $1.3m (£784,565). Playing at 282 sites the film, which stars ex-ER star Julianna Margulies and Gabriel Byrne, scored an average of $4,539.

Pathe launched Roman Polanski's 2002 Cannes Palme D'Or winner, The Pianist into tenth position with $318,470 (£195,222). Playing at 64 venues the WWII drama took an average of just under $5,000. It picked up seven BAFTA nominations on Monday, including best picture and director which may help it to have staying power in the coming weeks.

The highest site average scored by an opener this week came from ICA's 19th placed Finnish title The Man Without A Past. Aki Kaurismaki's film opened at 10 sites to take $58,837 (£36,067) for an average of $5,884.