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''Cast Away'' tops the box office for the third straight week

Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Traffic’ makes a healthy No. 3 debut

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Tom Hanks, Cast Away
Hanks: Francois Duhamel

Tom Hanks was the No. 1 man at the box office for a third straight weekend, as ”Cast Away” netted an estimated $24.1 million. So far, the ”no man is an island” drama has earned a stunning $143.5 million in just 17 days. Still, Mel Gibson’s ”What Women Want” (No. 2) isn’t far behind. The mind reading comedy pulled in another $15.5 million, bringing its three week gross to $137.8 million. We’re assuming the success of both flicks can’t be ENTIRELY attributed to Helen Hunt.

Steven Soderbergh’s critically adored ”Traffic” (No. 3) was the only newcomer to the top five this weekend. The drug running drama’s healthy $14.9 million bow bodes well for future earnings. Analysts had predicted that the drama might get a slow start before the announcement of the Academy Award nominations; the Golden Globe nominee is expected to earn several Oscar nods, including best picture and best director, which will further boost its box office.

The Sandra Bullock beauty pageant comedy ”Miss Congeniality” ($13.8 million) dropped one spot to No. 4, while Nic Cage’s ”Family Man” rounded out the top five with $9.2 million. Meanwhile, the big loser of the weekend was ”Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” The top box office earner of last year made just $2.4 million and lost 67 percent of its audience. Guess it’s finally time to put Jim Carrey away with the rest of the holiday ornaments.

CRITICAL MASS Analysts had predicted that mainstream America might not want to see a political flick like ”Traffic” until it received a few Academy Award nods. But EW.com readers were more than prepared for the weighty drama. Voters gave the Soderbergh film a B+, only slightly lower than the critics’ grade of A- (but higher than the B readers awarded ”Cast Away”). The under 29 crowd gave ”Traffic” a B+, while those over 30 gave the issue fraught movie a more generous A-.

Interestingly, 17 percent of EW.com’s readers say they saw ”Traffic” based on their knowledge of Soderbergh’s reputation as a director, while only 7 percent saw the movie for its stars — Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. This means recent Soderbergh films like ”Erin Brockovich” and ”Out of Sight” helped the creator of such quirky indies as ”sex, lies and videotape” gain more notice than tabloid faves Douglas and Zeta-Jones. And he didn’t even need a high profile marriage to do it.