HOLLYWOOD, March 10 (UPI) -- The opening of science-fiction fantasy "The Time Machine" easily led the nation's box office with an estimated $22.5 million at 2,944 theaters during the Friday-Sunday period, studio sources said Sunday.
The performance by the DreamWorks release, starring Guy Pearce as a scientist from the past, was in line with expectations amid a marketplace that has seen little fantasy fare since "The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring" opened three months ago.
"Machine," based on the 1895 book by H.G. Wells and directed by Wells' great-grandson Simon Wells, opened to mixed reviews but should be able to draw genre fans and young males in significant numbers for several more weeks.
Paramount's second weekend of "We Were Soldiers" followed with a solid second with $14.5 million at 3,143 theaters to give it nearly $41 million after its first 10 days. The success of "Soldiers" clearly indicates that moviegoers will support war films; "Behind Enemy Lines" and "Black Hawk Down" performed well in recent months.
New Line's opening of action comedy "All About the Benjamins" finished a respectable third with $10.1 million despite rolling out at only 1,505 sites. The project stars Ice Cube as a bounty hunter pursuing a con man played by Mike Epps.
With the three top films generating healthy performance, the weekend's top 10 films took in about $80 million, about 33 percent of the same weekend last year when "15 Minutes" and "Get Over It" opened to disappointing numbers. Total receipts for 2002 are at $1.4 billion and slightly ahead of 2001.
Miramax's second weekend of sex comedy "40 Days and 40 Nights" finished a distant fourth with $7.1 million at 2,225 theaters, followed by New Line's fourth weekend of "John Q" with $6 million at 2,382 locations to lift its total past $59 million.
Disney's fourth weekend of "Return to Never Land" came in sixth with $4.7 million at 2,498 theaters, edging Universal's third weekend of "Dragonfly" with $4.1 million at 2,431 locations and its 12th weekend of "A Beautiful Mind" with $3.9 million at 1,795 screens.
"Mind," which won a Directors Guild Award on Saturday for Ron Howard, has topped $144 million overall.
Universal's fifth weekend of "Big Fat Liar" finished ninth with $3.4 million at 2,074 sites, followed by New Line's Academy Award front-runner "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," which racked up its second staright 10th place finish with $2.6 million at 1,210 theaters.
"Rings" has grossed $291.1 million in 82 days and passed "Star Wars Episode V -- The Empire Strikes Back" for the No. 12 slot on the all-time domestic list.
Paramount Classics drew $44,000 at six theaters for its opening of Henry Jaglom's "Festival in Cannes.
Next's weekend's new releases include Warner Bros. police comedy "Showtime," starring Eddie Murphy and Robert DeNiro, 20th Century Fox's computed animated comedy "Ice Age" and Universal's drama "Harrison's Flowers."