Universal Pictures celebrated the second biggest opening in cinema history at the North American box office this weekend, as its adventure sequel The Mummy Returns grossed a spectacular estimated $70.1m. Only one film - Universal's own The Lost World: Jurassic Park - had a bigger three-day take of $72m in 1997; Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace took $64.8m in 1999 for third place.

Playing in 3,401 theatres, The Mummy Returns had a site average of $20,612, less than the $22,000 averaged by both The Lost World and The Phantom Menace which played in fewer theatres. The film also broke records for biggest Friday and Saturday single day grosses of $23.4m and $26.8m respectively.

The Mummy opened with $43.4m in the same weekend opening slot in 1999 and went on to take over $400m worldwide, so the success of the second had been predicted and had merited the $100m lavished on its production budget, although quite such a big opening was not as easy to guess.

Again directed by Stephen Sommers, The Mummy Returns pits Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz and John Hannah against the evil mummy Imhotep played by Arnold Vosloo. Also starring is wrestling champion The Rock as The Scorpion King, a character which has already spawned a spin-off movie of its own. Reviews were generally poor for the film, but this is one instance where a film is cheerily review-proof.

On the back of The Mummy Returns, the box office for the weekend was up some 32% from the same weekend last year when Gladiator opened. The remaining movies in the top ten hardly got a look in, however, with Franchise Pictures' Driven falling over 50% to $6.1m in its second weekend at number two. The Mummy Returns accounted for some 70% of the weekend's box office.

The Mummy Returns also opens a summer season which will be looking to improve on last year's erratic results, which lacked consistency and ended up down on the previous summer. Next weekend's only opener is Columbia's medieval action comedy A Knight's Tale starring Australian heartthrob Heath Ledger and directed by Brian Helgeland. Then on May 18, DreamWorks will open its animated comedy Shrek and a week later, Buena Vista will open its highly anticipated Pearl Harbor.

From then on, the summer audiences will face the might of such mega-pictures as AI Artificial Intelligence (Warner Bros), Planet Of The Apes (Fox), Atlantis: The Lost Empire (Buena Vista), Evolution (DreamWorks), America's Sweethearts (Sony/Revolution), Tomb Raider (Paramount), Dr Dolittle 2 (Fox), Scary Movie 2 (Dimension), Cats And Dogs (Warner Bros), Rush Hour 2 (New Line), Jurassic Park 3 (Universal), American Pie 2 (Universal) etc


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

1 (-) The Mummy Returns (Universal) UIP $70.1m --

2 (1) Driven (Warner Bros) Franchise Pictures $6.1m $21.6m

3 (2) Bridget Jones' Diary (Miramax) Universal/UIP/StudioCanal $6m $44.7m

4 (3) Spy Kids (Dimension) Miramax International $4m $98.5m

5 (4) Along Came A Spider (Paramount) UIP $3.8m $60m

6 (5) Crocodile Dundee In Los Angeles (Paramount) Kathy Morgan International $3.2m

7 (6) Blow (New Line) New Line International $2.4m

8 (8) The Forskaken (Screen Gems) Columbia TriStar $1.5m

9 (9) Joe Dirt (Columbia) Columbia TriStar $1.5m

10 (11) One Night At McCools (USA Films) Good Machine International $1.3m