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''Signs'' takes the top spot at the box office

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Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, ...
Signs: Frank Masi

Were movie audiences in the mood to be scared this weekend? ”Signs” point to yes.

Mel Gibson’s crop-circle thriller ”Signs” exploded at the box office, earning $60.3 million, according to studio estimates — easily enough to knock ”Austin Powers in Goldmember” out of the top slot. Thanks to exciting TV ads and a PG-13 rating, ”Signs,” in which Gibson plays a farmer who discovers possible alien activity on his property, attracted far beyond the actor’s typical opening-weekend fan base. Until now, Gibson’s best openings — ”Ransom,” ”What Women Want,” and the two last ”Lethal Weapon” films — all debuted with $33 million or $34 million. ”Signs” almost doubled that. Plus, it’s a bona fide career best for writer-director M. Night Shyamalan, whose last movie, ”Unbreakable,” opened with $30.3 million. Depending on audience word of mouth, ”Signs” could end up with more than $150 million.

After a record-breaking debut last week, ”Austin Powers in Goldmember” didn’t even put up a fight against Mel. ”Goldmember” plummeted 56 percent from last week’s $73.1 million weekend, bringing in another $32.4 million. By comparison, 1999’s ”Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” fell only 43 percent in its second weekend. Granted, when a movie becomes the biggest comedy opening of all time — as ”Goldmember did last weekend — the only way to go is down.

Two new films landed in third and fourth place. Dana Carvey’s goofy comedy ”Master of Disguise” started off with a promising $13 million, while Martin Lawrence’s concert ”Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat” grossed $7.5 million despite playing in only around 750 theaters. Meanwhile, Tom Hanks’ gangster drama ”Road to Perdition” rounded out the top five with $6.6 million.

Julia Roberts’ new ensemble flick, ”Full Frontal,” opened outside the top 10, thanks to a theater count of only 200, nowhere near the 3,000-plus of ”Signs” and ”Austin Powers.” Looks like Julia could use a little extra mojo.

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