And it was a kangaroo that sprang ahead of comedian Martin Lawrence and a host of award-winning films to land at the top of the weekend box office.
"Kangaroo Jack," a comedy about two hapless pals trying to retrieve missing mob money from a kangaroo in Australia, edged into first place in its debut weekend, taking in $17.7 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
"National Security," an action comedy starring Martin Lawrence and Steve Zahn as ex-cops who crack a smuggling ring, opened at No. 2, earning an estimated $15.7 million.
Last weekend's No. 1 film, "Just Married," fell to third place with an estimated $12.5 million. The romantic comedy starring Brittany Murphy and Ashton Kutcher as mismatched newlyweds has taken in $34 million since opening last weekend.
"At this time of year when we are used to seeing all these Oscar contenders, we forget that something like this can be very popular and take the No. 1 spot at the box office," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
"People must really be in the mood to laugh."
Overall, the weekend's top 12 films took in $105.9 million, up a fraction of a percent from the same weekend last year and down 2.6 percent from last weekend.
"It's not a record-breaking Martin Luther King weekend, but it is a solid weekend," Dergarabedian said.
Dan Fellan, head of distribution for Warner Bros., which released "Kangaroo Jack," said the film starring Jerry O'Connell and Anthony Anderson appealed to a wide audience - from ages "8 to 80."
"It's not just one of those cases where they drag the kids to the movies," Fellan said.
"National Security" proved popular with a broad, ethnically mixed audience, said Rory Bruer, president of distribution for Sony Pictures.
In fourth place was "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," which brought in an estimated $11.4 million in its fifth week out for a total of $299 million.
The film is poised to make movie history Monday when studio officials predict it will surpass the $300 million mark, said John Smith of Newline Cinema's publicity department.
Of the films released in 2002, only two others have topped the $300 million mark, Dergarabedian said. "Spider-Man" brought in $403.7 million and "Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones," brought in $310.3, he said.
Among films expected to do well at the award shows, "The Hours," starring Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore, earned an estimated $4.7 million in its fourth week, for a total of $7.4 million.
Released by Paramount Studios in late 2002, "The Hours" broadened to 402 theaters and took in an estimated $11,754 per-screen.
"We are just thrilled with its performance," said Nancy Kirkpatrick, Paramount's executive vice president of worldwide publicity.
The strategy is similar to the approach used for films such as "Chicago," "About Schmidt" and "Antwone Fisher," Dergarabedian said.
Estimated box-office leaders, according to Hollywood.com, are:
- "Kangaroo Jack," $17.6 million.
- "National Security," $15.7 million.
- "Just Married," $12.4 million.
- "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," $11.4 million.
- "Catch Me If You Can," $11.3 million.
- "Chicago," $8 million.
- "A Guy Thing," $7.1 million.
- "About Schmidt," $6.6 million.
- "The Hours," $4.7 million.
- "Two Weeks Notice," $4.1 million.