Mel Gibson's first stab at romantic comedy What Women Want was exactly that, with a massive estimated $34.4m opening over the weekend and over 60% of the audience consisting of women. Distributed by Paramount but sold internationally to independent distributors by Icon Entertainment International, the film could stand to become one of the most successful independently financed films of all time and certainly one of Gibson's biggest hits.

Playing at 3,012 theatres, it scored an average of $11,421 per theatre. It beat Scream 2 ($32.9m in 1997) as the biggest December opening in history and, if its estimates hold, beats Ransom ($34.1m in 1996) as Gibson's biggest ever opening.

Box office was up some 33% on the same weekend last year, confirming an upward trend due to the emergence of some audience-pleasing product in the marketplace. If women, for example, were satisfied with Gibson, teenagers lapped up 20th Century Fox's dumb teen comedy Dude, Where's My Car' which opened on a surprisingly strong $14m - more than the film's $13m budget. It stars teen stars Ashton Kutcher (TV's That 70s Show) and Seann William Scott (American Pie, Road Trip) as two dudes who wake up hungover and try and piece together the night before in order to find their missing car.

Dude even beat Universal's box office blockbuster The Grinch which slipped 30% in its fifth week on release but still grossd $13m to take it over the $200m mark.

Indeed the only marginal disappointment of the week was the number four opening with $10m of Buena Vista's latest animated offering The Emperor's New Groove. With a $3,570 theatre average, the opening was unspectacular although the film can be assured some solid family business over the forthcoming Christmas holidays.

Two specialised Oscar contenders performed spectacularly over the weekend. Miramax's Chocolat took $160,000 on just eight screens in its first weekend while Sony Classics' Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon took an astonishing $1.05m at just 31 theatres ($33,900 per theatre) bringing its ten day gross to $2.1m. Crouching Tiger was named film of the year by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association on Saturday.

Next weekend, the box office should take off into the stratosphere with the arrival of Fox's Cast Away starring Tom Hanks, Universal's The Family Man with Nicolas Cage and Warner's Miss Congeniality with Sandra Bullock.

Film (Distributor)/International distribution/Estimated weekend gross/Estimated total to date
1 (-) What Women Want (Paramount) Icon International $34.4m --
2 (-) Dude, Where's My Car' (20th Century Fox) Fox International $14m --
3 (1) Dr Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas (Universal) UIP $13m $212.9m
4 (-) The Emperor's New Groove (Buena Vista) BVI $10m --
5 (2) Vertical Limit (Columbia) Columbia TriStar $9m $28.7m
6 (3) Proof Of Life (Warner Bros) Warner Bros/Bel-Air $5.2m $18.6m
7 (2) Unbreakable (Buena Vista) BVI $3.9m $83.2m
8 (6) 102 Dalmatians (Buena Vista) BVI $2,7m $48m
9 (5) Dungeons And Dragons (New Line) J&M Entertainment $2.2m $10.9m
10 (7) Rugrats In Paris (Paramount) UIP $1.8m $63m