Sixth Sense, about a psychologist treating a boy who communicates with the dead, took in $26.1 million, a scant 2 percent drop from the gross in its opening weekend, according to estimates. The movie has taken in $70 million in its first 10 days.
Bowfinger, the Steve Martin-Eddie Murphy comedy about a shyster producer trying to make it in Hollywood, bowed in at No. 2 with $18.2 million in its first weekend.
Two other movies had disappointing debuts. Brokedown Palace, starring Claire Danes and Kate Beckinsale as Americans jailed for drug smuggling in Thailand, came in ninth with $4 million. Detroit Rock City, a comedy about teens trying to score KISS concert tickets, opened with $2 million for a likely 13th-place premiere.
The Blair Witch Project slipped from second to third place with $15.3 million, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. The horror film shot on a tiny budget has grossed $108 million, most of that since it went into wide release three weeks ago.
Sixth Sense is expected to hit $100 million by next weekend, said Chuck Viane, head of distribution for Disney, which released the film.
Originally scheduled for October release, Sixth Sense was moved ahead to the busier summer season "because we knew we had something good on our hands," Viane said. "Obviously, it's paid off."
Playing in 2,395 theaters, Sixth Sense maintained an impressive average of about $10,900 a screen.
Sixth Sense was the first movie since Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace to remain No. 1 at the box office for more than one weekend.
Phantom Menace topped the box office for its first three weeks in May and June. Since then, different movies had debuted in first place for nine straight weekends.
"There's been a lot of great marketing this summer," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc., which tracks movie ticket sales. "What opens a picture is great marketing. After that, it's word of mouth, which Sixth Sense has gotten. People really like the movie."
Phantom Menace contributed to the string of different first-place finishers at the box office. Big movie openings were packed into the mid- and late summer as studios shuffled their slate to avoid bumping up against the sci-fi epic, Dergarabedian said.
Estimated grosses for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc.:
1. The Sixth Sense, $26.1 million.
2. Bowfinger, $18.2 million.
3. The Blair Witch Project, $15.3 million.
4. Runaway Bride, $14.2 million.
5. The Thomas rown Affair, $10.2 million.
6. Deep Blue Sea, $6.7 million.
7. Inspector Gadget, $6.2 million.
8. Mystery Men, $4.9 million.
9. Brokedown Palace, $4 million
10. Iron Giant, $3.8 million.
Written by David Germain