Buoyed by good reviews and strong word-of-mouth, Warner Bros' Space Cowboys tied for the top spot at the North American box office over the weekend with Columbia Pictures' sci-fi thriller Hollow Man, each film taking an estimated $13.1m. Hollow Man fell 50% from its blockbusting opening last weekend, while Space Cowboys, which opened at number three last week, fell just 28%.

But it was the number three movie which was the weekend's biggest surprise. MGM scored a stunning $11.5m for its May-to-December romance Autumn In New York starring Richard Gere and Winona Ryder. Neither Gere nor Ryder consented to publicise the film and the studio opted not to preview it to critics, a sure sign to many that it was a bomb. MGM claimed that advance screenings were not held because of the sombre theme of the movie - Ryder's character has a terminal illness - and because it didn't want critics to give away the predictably depressing ending.

Indeed reviews published over the weekend were not kind to the film, but that did not affect romance-starved female audiences who flocked to the film based on the intensive TV campaign and the two stars. It scored the best per-site average among wide releases with $5,100 from 2,255 theatres. According to exit polls, women made up 70% of the audience, with 60% older than 25.

MGM bought North American rights to the film from Lakeshore Entertainment for $14m; Lakeshore International licensed the film to independent distributors in the international market.

Other wide openers weren't far behind. Warner Bros/Bel Air Entertainment's The Replacements, a football comedy starring Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman grossed $11.1m, while Paramount/Icon Entertainment's supernatural thriller Bless The Child starring Kim Basinger and Jimmy Smits took $9.6m. Reviews for both were dismal.

It was another good week for DreamWorks SKG. Its Harrison Ford/Michelle Pfeiffer thriller What Lies Beneath passed the $100m mark on Wednesday and animated comedy Chicken Run inched closer to that mark with $99.9m at close of play Sunday. The studio has started an intense promotional campaign for its next major release Almost Famous directed by Cameron Crowe which opens on Sept 15 after a world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. Advance word is already strong on the comedy, based on Crowe's own teenage experiences shadowing a rock band.

In the specialised arena, Fine Line Features is looking at a hit with its British comedy Saving Grace which took $358,000 from 35 screens in 14 North American markets for a strong average of over $10,000 per site. Fine Line will now expand the movie to some 250-300 screens next weekend, its third on release. Artisan opened its John Waters-directed comedy Cecil B Demented on nine screens for a solid $130,000.

However, the box office was down for the third consecutive weekend on last year. This time it was some 13.5% down from the same period last year when The Sixth Sense was soaring. As the summer draws to a close, it looks like the season will fail to eclipse last year's $3bn record. Few potential hits are left to open - New Line has high hopes for its serial killer thriller The Cell starring Jennifer Lopez and Vince Vaughan which opens wide next weekend.


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

1 tied (1) Hollow Man (Columbia) Columbia TriStar $13.1m $50.4m
1 tied (3) Space Cowboys (Warner Bros) Warner Bros $13.1m $39m
3 (-) Autumn In New York (MGM) Lakeshore International $11.5m --
4 (-) The Replacements (Warner Bros) Warner Bros/StudioCanal $11.1m --
5 (2) Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (Universal) UIP $10.3m $94.1m
6 (5) What Lies Beneath (DreamWorks SKG) 20th Century Fox $9.8m $112.1m
7 (-) Bless The Child (Paramount) Icon Entertainment International $9.6m --
8 (4) Coyote Ugly (Buena Vista) BVI $7.8m $34.2m
9 (6) X-Men (20th Century Fox) 20th Century Fox $4.2m $144m
10 (8) The Perfect Storm (Warner Bros) Warner Bros $2.8m $170.5m