"Hannibal" continued to do killer box office business, finishing first for the third straight weekend.
The R-rated thriller from MGM and Universal in association with Dino De Laurentiis held on to the top spot in its third week with a still-tasty estimated $15.8 million (-47%) at 3,292 theaters (+54 theaters; $4,800 per theater). Its cume is approximately $128.5 million.
"Hannibal" had the highest per-theater average for any film playing in wide release last weekend.
The film was co-financed by MGM, which is releasing it domestically, and Universal, which is distributing it abroad.
"We think it's great, to say the least," MGM worldwide distribution president Larry Gleason said Sunday morning. "The international numbers are really good. It opened in (about) 16 places (including) Latin America, Sweden, the Netherlands -- with the same kind of record-breaking pace everywhere. So we're thinking we will have grossed over $200 million worldwide by Monday morning (Feb. 26)."
Asked where it's heading in domestic theaters, Gleason replied, "I think it's going to be between $175-185 million."
"Hannibal's" 1991 predecessor film "The Silence of the Lambs" grossed $130.7 million in its domestic release via Orion Pictures and did about $142 million in international theaters. Gleason said "Hannibal" will overtake "Silence" on the domestic front Monday or Tuesday.
"When it hits over $130 million, it becomes the second highest-grossing MGM picture ever, only beaten by 'Rain Man' with $172 million," Gleason noted. "Hannibal" appears likely to go on to become the studio's highest-grossing domestic release ever.
Directed by Ridley Scott and produced by Dino De Laurentiis, Martha De Laurentiis and Ridley Scott, "Hannibal" stars Anthony Hopkins and Julianne Moore.
"Hannibal's" reign in first place is likely to end next weekend with the arrival of DreamWorks' R-rated drama "The Mexican," directed by Gore Verbinski and starring Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts.
Insiders are anticipating that, given its superstar cast, "Mexican" should open in first place to $15-20 million, with the high end of that range thought quite likely. "You've got to figure that 'Hannibal's' going to be down in the $10-11 million range next week and 'Down to Earth' will probably be $7-8 million," a Hollywood handicapper speculated Sunday morning.
Paramount's PG-13-rated comedy "Down to Earth" held on to second place in its second week with a still-lively estimated $11.6 million (-33%) at 2,521 theaters (theater count unchanged; $4,601 per theater). Its cume is approximately $34.4 million.
Directed by Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz, "Earth" stars Chris Rock.
""I think it's great," Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning. "What it says is that the competition was pretty light this weekend, so it gave it an opportunity to breathe. The playability is good, not great. It plays okay. In fact, there wasn't any competition coming in, only 'Hannibal.'"
Buena Vista/Disney's G-rated animated feature "Recess: School's Out" held on to third place with a still playful estimated $7.3 million (-28%) at 2,630 theaters ($2,757 per theater). Its cume is approximately $23.0 million.
Directed by Chuck Sheetz, "Recess" was produced by Sheetz and Stephen Swofford and executive produced and created by Paul Germain and Joe Ansolabehere.
Franchise Pictures' R-rated drama "3,000 Miles To Graceland" kicked off (via its distribution deal with Warner Bros.) in fourth place to a subdued estimated $7.13 million at 2,545 theaters ($2,802 per theater).
Directed by Demian Lichtenstein, "Graceland" stars Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner.
Warner Bros. has no financial investment in "Graceland," which it is releasing for Franchise for a distribution fee.
Sony Pictures Classics' Oscar-contending, PG-13-rated action adventure "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" held on to fifth place in its 12th week with a still-dazzling estimated $6.28 million (-28%) at 1,749 theaters (+98 theaters; $3,593 per theater). Its cume is approximately $81.6 million.
"Tiger" is nominated for 10 Oscars, including best picture, best foreign language film and best director.
Directed by Ang Lee, "Dragon" stars Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-Fat.
"I think it's going to do $100 million or over," Sony Pictures Classics sales vice president Tom Prassis said Sunday morning.
Warner Bros. and Bel-Air Entertainment's PG-13-rated romantic drama "Sweet November" slid two slots to sixth place in its second week with a less sweet estimated $5.3 million (-46%) at 2,268 theaters ($2,337 per theater). Its cume is approximately $18.0 million.
Directed by Pat O'Connor, "November" stars Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron.
USA Films' R-rated, Oscar-contending drama "Traffic" fell one peg to seventh place in its ninth week with a still-attractive estimated $5.05 million (-18%) at 1,755 theaters (+13 theaters; $2,877 per theater). Its cume is approximately $86.1 million.
"Traffic" is nominated for five Oscars, including best picture and best director.
USA distribution president Jack Foley said Sunday morning that "Traffic" is heading for a $100 million domestic theatrical gross by Oscar night. "Particularly with this modest drop this weekend, which was critical because it keeps it up," he pointed out.
"It retards the descent. So we can go into next weekend and get (hit) by "The Mexican" and still live through it. If we'd taken a greater drop, it would have put the $100 million mark beyond the Academy Awards, and then it would have been a question of if we win or if we don't win. So I think we're in good shape to hit ($100 million) relatively soon."
Directed by Steven Soderbergh, "Traffic" stars Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Quaid and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Miramax's PG-13-rated Oscar contending romantic comedy drama "Chocolat" held on to eighth place as it expanded again in its 11th week with a still-hopeful estimated $4.7 million (-4%) at 1,844 theaters (+363 theaters; $2,548 per theater). Its cume is approximately $40.1 million.
"Chocolat" is nominated for five Oscars, including best picture.
"It's another great hold," Miramax senior vice president, marketing David Kaminow said Sunday morning. "It's still chugging along doing great. I think we'll be close to $60 million by the time the Oscars (are announced)."
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, "Chocolat" stars Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin and Johnny Depp.
Columbia and Intermedia Films' PG-13-rated romantic comedy "The Wedding Planner" dropped two rungs to ninth place in its fifth week with a quiet estimated $4.0 million (-30%) at 2,064 theaters (-290 theaters; $1,938 per theater). Its cume is approximately $52.2 million.
Directed by Adam Shankman, "Planner" stars Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey.
Rounding out the Top Ten this week was 20th Century Fox's PG-13-rated drama "Cast Away," down one notch in its 10th week with a calm estimated $3.36 million (-28%) at 1,996 theaters (-247 theaters; $1,682 per theater). Its cume is approximately $221.2 million.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis, "Cast Away" stars Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt.
OTHER OPENINGS 20th Century Fox's PG-13-rated youth appeal comedy "Monkeybone" opened out of the Top Ten to an unfunny estimated $2.63 million at 1,722 theaters ($1,530 per theater).
Directed by Henry Selick, "Monkeybone" stars Brendan Fraser and Bridget Fonda.
Shooting Gallery's unrated drama "Last Resort" opened to a quiet estimated $0.031 million at 14 theaters ($2,195 per theater).
Written and directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, it stars Dina Korzun, Paddy Considine and Artiom Strelnikov.
SNEAK P EVIEWS Warner Bros. scheduled Sunday afternoon sneak previews of its PG-rated family appeal comedy "See Spot Run" from Village Roadshow Pictures.
Directed by John Whitesel, "Run" stars David Arquette.
EXPANSIONS On the expansion front, this weekend saw Sony Pictures Classics go wider with its R-rated drama "Pollock," grossing in its third week an encouraging estimated $0.42 million at 32 theaters (+18 theaters; $13,250 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.85 million.
"Pollock" received Oscar nominations for best actor (Ed Harris) and best supporting actress (Marcia Gay Harden).
Directed by Ed Harris, "Pollock" stars Ed Harris and Marcia Gay Harden.
"It's terrific," Sony Pictures Classics sales vice president Tom Prassis said Sunday morning. "Every market we opened -- Boston, Washington, D.C., Denver, Seattle, San Francisco and San Diego -- was phenomenal. The expansions are going well on it and people really like the film."
USA Films' PG-rated drama "In the Mood For Love" added theaters in its fourth week with a still-encouraging estimated $0.3 million at 50 theaters (+26 theaters; $5,940 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.9 million.
Written and directed by Wong Kar-Wai, "Love" stars Tony Leung and Maggie Chung.
WEEKEND COMPARISONS Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $85.42 million, up about 2.18% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $83.6 million.
This weekend's three-day key film gross should not be compared to the previous weekend this year, a four-day holiday weekend.
Last year, Warner Bros.' second week of "The Whole Nine Yards" was first with $9.56 million at 2,910 theaters ($3,286 per theater); and Paramount's opening week of "Snow Day" was second with $8.34 million at 2,709 theaters ($3,077 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $17.9 million. This year, the top two films grossed an estimated $27.4 million.