''Spy Kids'' knocks out Lara Croft at the box office -- The kiddie movie unexpectedly outperforms ''The Cradle of Life'' and ''Seabiscuit''

By Dave Karger
July 25, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

Just how sneaky are those Spy Kids? So sneaky that no one gave their sequel, ”Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over,” the slightest chance of opening in the top three this weekend. Well, we were all way wrong. Premiering ahead of both ”Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” and ”Seabiscuit,” the kids scored a fantastic debut of $32.5 million, according to studio estimates, landing them not only in the top three but at No. 1 for the weekend.

So how did the film with the lowest tracking figures end up at the top? Credit a wave of late-in-the-week media appearances by the likes of ”Spy Kids 3-D” costar Sylvester Stallone and a rush of family business for the very kid-friendly film. The last installment in the franchise, ”Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams,” opened with $25 million over five days; this one almost doubled its predecessor’s three-day take. In other words, we haven’t seen the last of the ”Kids” franchise.

Interestingly, less than $1 million separated the next four finishers. Placing second was the surprise smash ”Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” which slipped only 34 percent in its third weekend to $22.4 million, bringing its total to a terrific $176.1 million. At this rate, ”Pirates” will soon become the fifth film (after ”Finding Nemo,” ”The Matrix Reloaded,” ”Bruce Almighty,” and ”X2: X-Men United”) to cross the $200 million mark this year. Third place went to ”Bad Boys II,” which saw a drop of 53 percent to $22 million. After 10 days, the Will Smith/Martin Lawrence comedy has grossed $88.5 million.

Most analysts (including myself) expected ”Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” to top the chart this weekend. But the Angelina Jolie sequel flopped hard with only $21.8 million in its opening weekend. That’s 55 percent less than the first ”Tomb Raider” film earned in its first three days in 2001. Coming after 11 other action flicks this summer, ”Cradle” definitely paid the price for moviegoers’ overkill. Perhaps fans think this season featured a few too many mindless sequels.

Rounding out the top five was ”Seabiscuit,” with $21.5 million. The adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand’s popular book, starring Tobey Maguire, performed quite well compared with last summer’s ”serious” film, ”Road to Perdition,” which opened with $22.1 million. Positive word of mouth should help the horse-racing drama in the coming weeks.

Most impressively, all of this week’s top five films earned more than $20 million (marking the first time in history, I believe, that’s happened). But those Spy Kids definitely delivered the biggest surprise.