HOLLYWOOD, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- The opening of the romantic comedy "Just Married" won the nation's box office with an estimated $18 million at 2,764 theaters during the Friday-Sunday period, studio sources said Sunday.
The 20th Century Fox film, starring Ashton Kutcher and Brittany Murphy as newlyweds, was the only major film to open in wide release so far in 2003 with holdover films and awards season contenders dominating the offerings. Reviews were mixed for "Married," which was marketed to young adults and teens.
"It looks as if 'Just Married' managed to hit its target audience pretty well," said movie industry analyst Arthur Rockwell of Rockwell Capital Management. "It's a pretty decent opening since neither of the stars are big names."
New Line's fourth weekend of "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" came in second after three weekends in first with $15 million at 3,477 theaters to lift its 26-day total to $283.6 million. "Towers" is now the 17th highest grosser on the domestic list behind "Home Alone" and is only $50 million short of the final total for "Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring."
"Even though the first 'Lord of the Rings' did very well, the performance by 'The Two Towers' is surprisingly strong this far into its release," Rockwell said.
DreamWorks' third weekend of "Catch Me If You Can" finished a close third with $14.8 million at at 3,225 theaters to lift its 19-day total to $119.7 million as it lost only 30 percent from its previous weekend. "Catch," starring Leonardo DiCaprio, has taken in more than double the total of "Gangs of New York," which also starred DiCaprio and opened five days earlier.
Warner's fourth weekend of "Two Weeks Notice" came in a distant fourth with $6.7 million at 2,755 sites, edging New Line's fifth weekend of "About Schmidt" with $6.3 million at 865 theaters and Miramax's third weekend of "Chicago" with $5.6 million at 362 locations. The per-theater average for "Chicago," which has emerged as a leading Oscar contender, was a robust $15,469.
Finishing in a tie for seventh at $5 million each were Miramax's fourth weekend of "Gangs of New York" at 2,340 theaters and Sony's fifth weekend of "Maid in Manhattan" at 2,962 theaters. "Maid" has totaled $83.7 million and "Two Weeks Notice" has hit $79 million, underscoring the ongoing appeal of romantic comedies.
Fox Searchlight's expanded run of "Antwone Fisher" finished ninth with $3.8 million at 1,006 theaters as the studio added 814 locations.
Two films tied for 10th with $2.9 million each -- Sony's sixth weekend of "Adaptation" at 560 theaters and Fox's fifth weekend of "Drumline' at 1,540 theaters. "Drumline" has been a surprise success with $51.4 million.
Paramount's expansion of "Narc" came in 12th with $2.74 million at 822 theaters, followed by Disney's widened run for "25th Hour" with $2.7 million at 490 theaters. Warner's ninth weekend of "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" also took in $2.7 million at 1,550 sites to lift its total to $255.3 million.
Business was about even with the same weekend of 2002 with the top 10 taking in $83 million in both periods. Rockwell said 2003 could improve on record pace of 2002, which saw final grosses hit $9.2 billion.
"It's a pretty good start for the year and I believe the schedule looks strong enough to continue getting customers to show up," he added.
On the art-house circuit, Miramax grossed $61,000 at seven theaters for "The Quiet American" and $81,000 at five for "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," which has totaled $250,714. Paramount's "The Hours" grossed $900,000 at 45 theaters and United Artists' "Nicholas Nickleby" took in $253,000 at 100 sites.
A trio of comedies will open next weekend -- Warner Bros.' family comedy "Kangaroo Jack," which was rolled out in sneak previews this weekend; Sony's action comedy "National Security," with Martin Lawrence; and MGM's romantic comedy "A Guy Thing."