Denzel's ''John Q.'' trumps Britney's film debut. But Spears' strong opening numbers mean we may have a new hyphenate singer-actress with which to contend
Kimberly Elise, John Q, ...
Credit: John Q: Ava V. Gerlitz

Tried-and-true star power reigned at the box office, as veteran Denzel Washington handily topped upstart Britney Spears for the top slot over the holiday weekend.

Washington’s thriller ”John Q.,” about a father who takes a hospital emergency room hostage, grossed an impressive $24.1 million over the four-day period, according to studio estimates. Marking Washington’s third consecutive $20 million-plus debut (after ”Remember the Titans” and ”Training Day”), this premiere is especially notable because it hit that benchmark without many good reviews. Indeed, coming on the heels of his fifth Oscar nomination (for ”Training Day”), ”John Q.” caps a banner week for the actor.

Trailing in second place was Spears’ movie debut, the teen road trip drama ”Crossroads,” which brought in a strong $17 million. That figure easily tops the $12.2 million fellow popster Mandy Moore attracted with her romance ”A Walk to Remember” last month (though remember that Britney had an extra day). And let’s not even compare these numbers to those of Mariah Carey’s ”Glitter” and the ‘N Sync boys’ ”On the Line.” Looks like Spears will be able to have a dual career if she chooses to.

The Disney family flick ”Return to Never Land,” a sequel to ”Peter Pan,” also debuted nicely with $16.1 million. Without any big-name stars providing voice work, this one got by on the Disney name alone. And rounding out the top five were last week’s top two films: Frankie Muniz’s comedy ”Big Fat Liar” fell only 25 percent to $11.9 million, while Arnold Schwarzenegger’s terrorism thriller ”Collateral Damage” dropped 40 percent to $9.9 million.

The biggest disappointment of the weekend, however, has to be Bruce Willis’ WWII drama ”Hart’s War,” which opened way down in seventh place with only $9 million, marking his worst debut in more than five years. (His last film, ”Bandits,” opened with $13.1 million last year.) After the recent premieres of ”Behind Enemy Lines” and ”Black Hawk Down,” which grossed $18.7 million and $28.6 million in their respective first weekends, have movie audiences finally grown tired of war movies? If so, don’t tell Mel Gibson — his Vietnam drama ”We Were Soldiers” opens next month.

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Big Fat Liar
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