Mel Gibson's star shone bright at the North American box office over the weekend as We Were Soldiers, his latest war epic financed by his own company Icon Entertainment with Paramount Pictures, opened at the number one spot with $20.2m. Gibson stars as Lt Col Hal Moore, on whose book We Were Soldiers Once'And Young the film is based, who led the first US battle against the North Vietnamese in 1965.

Written and directed by Braveheart screenwriter Randall Wallace, the film co-stars Chris Klein, Madeline Stowe, Greg Kinnear, Keri Russell and Barry Pepper. It is distributed internationally by Icon Entertainment International and in the UK and Australia by Icon itself. Gibson is the only movie star in Hollywood who now controls his own sales and territorial distribution - a strategy which gives him new negotiating power and added income from sales of movies like We Were Soldiers and What Women Want.

Second opener with $12.5m was 40 Days And 40 Nights, a Working Title comedy set in the US and starring Josh Hartnett as a college boy who gives up sex for 40 days in order to get over his ex-girlfriend. Directed by Michael Lehmann, the film is distributed domestically by Miramax Films, with Working Title partners Universal Pictures and StudioCanal sharing foreign rights.

Still playing strong was New Line's John Q which took $8.4m in its third weekend for the number three place and Disney's Return To Neverland at number five with $6.5m. But fading fast were last week's openers Queen Of The Dead which tumbled from number one to number six (down 60%) with $5.8m and Dragonfly which fell from three to four (down 33%) with $6.8m.

Box office was up eight per cent from the same weekend last year, continuing an upward streak which could continue next week with DreamWorks/Warner Bros co-production The Time Machine starring Guy Pearce.

Back in the top ten this week was New Line's 13 times Oscar nominee The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring which grossed $3.1m in its 11th weekend to bring its total to $287.4m. It now looks likely that the Peter Jackson film will pass the $300m mark.


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

1 (-) We Were Soldiers (Paramount) Icon International $20.2m --

2 (-) 40 Days And 40 Nights (Miramax) Universal/StudioCanal $12.5m --

3 (2) John Q (New Line) New Line International $8.4m $51.1m

4 (3) Dragonfly (Universal) UIP/Spyglass $6.8m $19.4m

5 (4) Return To Neverland (Buena Vista) BVI $6.5m $35.3m

6 (1) Queen Of The Damned (Warner Bros) Warner/Village Roadshow $5.8m $23.8m

7 (6) Big Fat Liar (Universal) UIP $4.8m $38.8m

8 (7) A Beautiful Mind (Universal) DreamWorks/UIP $4.4m $138.7m

9 (5) Crossroads (Paramount/MTV Films) Summit Entertainment $4m $31.2m

10 (12) The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (New Line) New Line International $3.1m