The Michael Douglas thriller Don't Say a Word beat two other new releases to emerge as the weekend's top movie, pulling boxoffice receipts out of their doldrums in the first competitive weekend since the end of the summer.
Ben Stiller's fashion-world satire Zoolander was a fairly close second, while the sentimental Stephen King movie Hearts in Atlantis, starring Anthony Hopkins, trailed in third.
Nicole Kidman's spookfest The Others saw its grosses hold steady, a good omen for its prospects of topping $100 million, but the rest of the returning top 10 movies posted the usual drops.
The sustained performance of Rush Hour 2 and Rat Race indicated an audience preference for lighter fare, while the slumps suffered by recent pseudo-hits The Glass House and The Musketeer suggest that word of their mediocrity has started to travel.
A healthy slate of competitors arrive next weekend to push the deadwood out of the top 10 and give this week's winners a run for their money — the John Cusack/Kate Beckinsale romance Serendipity, the tense Gen Y thriller Joy Ride and Denzel Washington's dark police yarn Training Day (hit-starved Warner Bros.' best shot in months at a real success) are strong prospects, and the Disney kid comedy Max Keeble's Big Move could prove a spoiler as well.
Andrew Johnston is a film critic and associate editor at US WEEKLY magazine.