Overall business was below usual due to the nation's focus on the war in Iraq plus the Sunday telecast of the Academy Awards. "It's not surprising that the weekend is off because people don't go to the movies as often at a time like this," said industry analyst Arthur Rockwell of Rockwell Capital Management.
The top 10 films totaled about $79 million -- down $35 million from the same weekend a year ago when "Blade II" led with $32.5 million.
"Bringing Down the House" became the first film released this year to lead the box office for three weekends in a row and the first movie to do so since "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" won the last two weekends of 2002 and the first weekend of 2003.
The comedy, which has topped $83 million in 17 days, lost only 26 percent of its audience from the previous weekend.
"'Bringing Down the House' has really managed to establish (itself) as a successful comedy and it's benefited from there not being a lot of direct competition," Rockwell noted.
The movie, which drew mixed reviews, benefited from being released with a "Flight of the Osiris" trailer for the much-anticipated sequel to "The Matrix."
"It looks as if 'Dreamcatcher' was able to attract the core audience of genre fans but not much more," Rockwell said.
MGM's second weekend of "Agent Cody Banks" came in a distant third with $9.2 million at 3,369 locations as the comedy-action movie declined 34 percent from its opening Friday-Sunday. "Banks" has topped $26 million in 10 days and the studio has announced plans for a sequel.
Miramax's opening of comedy "View From the Top," starring Gwyneth Paltrow as a flight attendant, generated moderate interest as it finished fourth with $7.7 million at 2,508 theaters. Reviews were mostly negative.
Miramax's 13th weekend of "Chicago," the heavy favorite to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, followed in fifth with $6.2 million at 2,565 theaters as the musical declined only 13 percent from the prior weekend.
"'Chicago' should continue to do well for several more weeks, particularly if it wins Best Picture," Rockwell said.
"Chicago" is now the 141st highest grosser on the all-time domestic list behind "The Rock."
Disney's family animated comedy "Piglet's Big Movie" posted a lukewarm opening in sixth with $6.1 million at 2,084 theaters, followed by Paramount's second weekend of "The Hunted" with $6 million at 2,517 theaters, as the latter slid 55 percent from its opening weekend.
Sony's third weekend of "Tears of the Sun" finished eighth with $4.6 million at 2,801 sites, lifting its 17-day total past $38 million. The Bruce Willis vehicle lost 47 percent from its second weekend.
A pair of comedies took the last two spots in the top 10 as DreamWorks' fifth weekend of "Old School" continued to perform well in ninth with $4 million at 2,033 sites to push its total past $67 million.
Artisan's opening of "Boat Trip," starring Cuba Gooding Jr. as a passenger who unwittingly winds up on a cruise for gay passengers, followed with a disappointing $3.4 million at 1,714 sites amid mostly negative reviews.
Paramount's seventh weekend of "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" came in 11th with $3 million at 1,840 theaters to lift its total to $98.3 million. New Line's second weekend of "Willard" followed with $1.7 million at 1,762 locations.
On the art-house circuit, Fox Searchlight's second weekend of "Bend It Like Beckham" continued to perform well with $185,170 at eight theaters. Sony Classics' third weekend of "Laurel Canyon" also drew well with $158,389 at 19 sites.
"Bringing Down the House" and "Dreamcatcher" will face competition next weekend from a trio of openings -- DreamWorks' presidential comedy "Head of State," starring Chris Rock; Paramount's action-thriller "The Core;" and Sony's crime thriller "Basic," starring Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta.