The teen-spy flick "Agent Cody Banks," starring Frankie Muniz, opened with a respectable $15 million, while Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio del Toro's "The Hunted" took in $13.5 million in its debut.
The weekend's other new wide release - "Willard," starring Crispin Glover in a remake of the 1970s horror tale about a social misfit and his ravenous pet rats - debuted a distant No. 8 with $4 million.
Business fell overall, with the top 12 movies grossing $93.3 million, down 23 percent from the same weekend a year ago, when "Ice Age" had a huge $46.3 million debut.
"Bringing Down the House," about an uptight white lawyer whose online "girlfriend" turns out to be a black escaped convict seeking help to clear her name, is on track to become a $100 million hit.
"I think this is one of those classic situations where the public is actually moving the needle for us. Voluntary word of mouth, people walking up to friends and saying, `I saw this really funny movie you've got to see,"' said Chuck Viane, head of distribution for Disney, whose Touchstone Pictures banner released "Bringing Down the House."
With the United States preparing for war in Iraq, audiences may be in the mood for lighter movies such as "Bringing Down the House" and "Agent Cody Banks" over military-themed stories like "The Hunted" and "Tears of the Sun."
"`Bringing Down the House' is a perfect antidote for what's going on in the world. You go in for an hour and a half and escape from the world situation," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
About 70 percent of the audience for "Agent Cody Banks" was 12 and younger, and the start of spring break at many schools gave the movie a boost, said Erik Lomis, head of distribution for MGM, which released the flick.
Ticket sales for "The Hunted" came in on the "low side of what we were looking for," said Wayne Lewellen, head of distribution for Paramount, which released it. The audience was mostly younger males, he said.
Playing in 2,801 theaters, "Bringing Down the House" averaged a healthy $7,997 a cinema. "Agent Cody Banks" averaged $4,452 in 3,369 theaters, "The Hunted" averaged $5,366 in 2,516 cinemas and "Willard" did $2,286 in 1,761 moviehouses.
In limited release, the British soccer flick "Bend It Like Beckham" opened with $151,717 in six theaters for a strong $25,286 average. A hit in England last year, "Bend It Like Beckham" gradually expands to nationwide release by mid-April, said Steve Gilula, head of distribution for Fox Searchlight, which released the film.
Here are the numbers according to Hollywood.com:
- "Bringing Down the House," $22.4 million.
- "Agent Cody Banks," $15 million.
- "The Hunted," $13.5 million.
- "Tears of the Sun," $8.8 million.
- "Chicago," $7.7 million.
- "Old School," $6.8 million.
- "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days," $4.8 million.
- "Willard," $4 million.
- "Daredevil," $3.04 million.
- "Cradle 2 the Grave," $3 million.