The Ring remained in the winners circle with $18.5 million, with no percentage drop at all from last weekend.
I Spy kicked off in third place to a disappointing $14 million.
Jackass: The Movie was still laughing in fourth place with $13.1 million.
Ghost Ship sailed into fifth place, down 43 percent with $6.6 million.
Also helping to boost this weekend's totals was Twentieth Century Fox's IMAX release of Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones with an out of this world $1.5 million. (For details, see OTHER OPENINGS below).
Key films were down about 18 percent from last year -- $114.6 million versus $139.9 million.
There also was record setting news on the home entertainment front as Sony Pictures Entertainment announced its DVD and videocassette release of Spider-Man had sold a projected 11 million combined units this weekend. Sony ESTIMATED Spider-Man will do a record setting $190 million in retail revenue in North America its first three days in the marketplace. (For details, see the related news story here.)
THE TOP TEN
Buena Vista/Disney's G rated comedy sequel Santa Clause 2 opened to a chart topping ESTIMATED $29.0 million at 3,350 theaters ($8,662 per theater).
Santa's average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
Directed by Michael Lembeck, it stars Tim Allen.
The original Santa Clause opened the weekend of Nov. 11-13, 1994 in second place to $19.3 million at 2,183 theaters ($8,851 per theater). It went on to gross $144.6 million in domestic theaters.
"It was one of those films that the theater manager grapevine had told us weeks and weeks ago that this was going to be a big hit," Buena Vista Distribution president Chuck Viane said Sunday morning about the sequel. "Inside the operations of all the theater chains, they knew it and they were prepared. We had great showtimes, multiple screens, more seats than you could imagine and it was a nice ride."
Asked about starting the holiday season as early as Nov. 1, Viane explained, "I think it's much like the summer season -- November being such a prolific grossing month that you can use any part of it to launch a movie. And for something like ours we had a movie that had great anticipation behind it. (The film) lived up to what the audience was looking for. The CinemaScores were all A (grades)and in our own college tracking we scored a 90. The original scored an 89.
"So people came in with some pretty high expectation and (Michael Lembeck) made a film that people loved. I think this is one of those roles Tim could do forever if he wanted to because the audience has a love affair with Tim in this love. He delivers. He makes you believe he's Santa Claus. But the nice part is, you can expand the (holiday) season much like early May is now the launch of summer. We believe that this (early November date) is just a logical launching pad for films for the holiday."
Asked about the eight year period between the original and the sequel, Viane replied, "The movie is a perennial bring-back every Christmas. People fall in love and watch it on TV or on their DVDs or whatever. All we did was bring what they were looking for (into theaters) and with a very smart and warm story, wonderfully delivered. These are the kind of weekends you look forward to."
Where is Santa 2 heading? "With all of the exit (poll data), I'm thinking this is another one of those $100 million-plus movies," Viane said. "Obviously, we're off to such a terrific start. In my wildest dreams I never thought we'd be number one by over $10 million. And who would have ever 'thunk' that we could have got to the point of doubling the gross of the film we went head and head with? These things all suggest we're going to be around. We have two weeks clear in the marketplace and I think we'll be in very, very good shape before we take on the head-on competition with Harry Potter (and the Chamber of Secrets). I think we will weather that (when it opens Nov. 15).
"We will play very well through the Thanksgiving holiday. As people get closer and closer to the holiday, I think we're going to get some return visits. I'm pretty comfortable that all that will happen. It's always (interesting) when you listen to people walking out of a theater. So many of them said, 'Gee, I can't wait to see this again before the holidays.' It's a true testament to how well the movie's playing."
DreamWorks' PG-13 rated horror thriller The Ring held on to second place in its third week with a solid ESTIMATED $18.5 million (-0%) at 2,808 theaters (+174 theaters; $6,585 per theater). Its cume is approximately $64.9 million.
"Last weekend was up 23 percent from the first weekend, so it's pretty amazing right now the way it's playing (with no drop in the second weekend)," DreamWorks distribution head Jim Tharp said Sunday morning.
What accounts for the great legs? "It has to be word of mouth," Tharp replied. "The sneaks -- we had 400 of them (the weekend before opening) -- were 60-70 percent capacity. So it didn't sell out for those. Even the opening Friday night, we didn't sell out. But since then the movie's been playing fantastically. It's all word of mouth."
Columbia's opening of its PG-13 rated comedy I Spy finished third with a quiet ESTIMATED $14.0 million at 3,182 theaters ($4,400 per theater).
Paramount and MTV Films' R rated comedy Jackass: The Movie tumbled three slots to fourth place in its second week, holding better than expected with an ESTIMATED $13.1 million (-42%) at 2,530 theaters (+21 theaters; $5,178 per theater). Its cume is approximately $42.5 million.
Directed by Jeff Tremaine, it stars Johnny Knoxville.
Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow's R rated horror film Ghost Ship dropped anchor in fifth place, down two rungs in its second week with a slow ESTIMATED $6.57 million (-43%) at 2,787 theaters ($2,357 per theater). Its cume is approximately $21.3 million.
Directed by Steve Beck, it stars Julianna Margulies.
IFC Films' release of Gold Circle Films and HBO's PG rated romantic comedy blockbuster My Big Fat Greek Wedding slid one slot to sixth place in its 29th week, still showing great legs with an ESTIMATED $5.62 million (-9%) at 1,977 theaters (+10 theaters; $2,843 per theater). Its cume is approximately $185.2 million, heading for more than $200 million in domestic theaters.
Buena Vista/Touchstone's PG-13 rated romantic comedy Sweet Home Alabama dropped three notches to seventh place in its sixth week with a still sweet ESTIMATED $4.6 million (-29%) at 2,441 theaters (-741 theaters; $1,905 per theater). Its cume is approximately $113.5 million, heading for $125 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Andy Tennant, it stars Reese Witherspoon.
Revolution Studios and Columbia's R rated romantic comedy drama Punch-Drunk Love went wide in its fourth week, placing eighth with an okay ESTIMATED $4.2 million at 1,252 theaters (+771 theaters; $3,355 per theater). Its cume is approximately $11.1 million.
Universal and Dino De Laurentiis's R rated thriller Red Dragon, presented in association with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, fell three limbs to ninth place in its fifth week with an uneventful ESTIMATED $2.66 million (-43%) at 1,956 theaters (-930 theaters; $1,360 per theater). Its cume is approximately $89.0 million, heading for $100 million.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Fox Searchlight Pictures' PG-13 rated urban appeal romantic comedy Brown Sugar, which was ninth last week, with a less tasty ESTIMATED $1.7 million (-39%) at 855 theaters (-291 theaters; $1,988 per theater). Its cume is approximately $24.6 million.
This weekend also saw the arrival of Twentieth Century Fox and Lucasfilm's blockbuster Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones in a special IMAX release to a sensational ESTIMATED $1.45 million at 58 theaters ($25,000 per theater). Its cume is approximately $303.6 million.
"We're playing at 32 institutions and in 26 commercial theaters," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said Sunday morning. "They did better than I thought. There were lots of $20,000 Saturdays out there on this. It's fantastic!"
Lions Gate Films' R rated thriller The Weight of Water arrived to a soggy ESTIMATED $50,000 at 27 theaters ($1,865 per theater).
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front this weekend saw United Artists' R rated satiric documentary Bowling for Columbine released via MGM widen in its third week with a still impressive ESTIMATED $1.65 million at 162 theaters (+51 theaters; $10,185 per theater). Its cume is approximately $4.6 million.
Written, produced and directed by Michael Moore, it won the Special Jury Prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival.
Miramax's R rated drama Frida went wider in its second week with a promising ESTIMATED $1.02 million at 47 theaters (+42 theaters; $21,595 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.3 million.
Directed by Julie Taymor, it stars Salma Hayek.
Miramax's Comedian expanded in its fourth week with a chilly ESTIMATED $0.72 million at 225 theaters (+195 theaters; $3,317 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.2 million.
Directed by Christian Charles, it stars Jerry Seinfeld.
Miramax's Dimension Films label went wider with its R rated urban appeal action drama Paid in Full with a dull ESTIMATED $0.63 million at 273 theaters (+5 theaters; $2,289 per theater). Its cume is approximately $2.3 million.
HBO Films and Newmarket Films' PG-13 rated comedy drama Real Women Have Curves added theaters in its third week with a quiet ESTIMATED $0.48 million at 124 theaters (+16 theaters; $3,802 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.2 million.
Directed by Patricia Cardoso, it stars America Ferrera, Lupe Ontiveros and George Lopez.
Artisan Entertainment's R rated comedy Roger Dodger widened in its second week with a hopeful ESTIMATED $0.16 million at 25 theaters (+21 theaters; $6,311 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.2 million.
United Artists R rated drama All or Nothing expanded via MGM in its second week with an uneventful ESTIMATED $43,000 at 16 theaters (+9 theaters; $2,714 per theater). Its cume is approximately $80,000.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $114.62 million for the weekend, down about 18.05 percent from last year when they totaled $139.86 million.
Key films were up about 15.54 percent from the previous weekend this year when they totaled $99.2 million.
Last year, Buena Vista/Disney's opening week of Monsters, Inc. was first with $62.58 million at 3,237 theaters ($19,332 per theater); and Sony's opening week of The One was second with $19.11 million at 2,894 theaters ($6,604 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $81.7 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $47.5 million.