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Fantasy is Favorite in End of the Year Box Office - 2003-01-01

The Two Towers makes it two weeks on top at North American theaters; and, if they can, movie audiences also catch Steven Spielberg's new cop-and-robber caper, one of two films on the box office chart starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Alan Silverman lists the top five for the final week of 2002, starting with an epic historical drama at number five.

Gangs Of New York is director Martin Scorcese's sweeping account of a violent chapter in New York history: the mid-1800s when the city saw anti-immigrant hatred and bloody street fights. Daniel Day Lewis plays the leader of the "nativists," native-born Americans battling to keep Irish newcomers out of the "Five Points" neighborhood of lower Manhattan. His rival is a young Irishman played by Leonardo DiCaprio.

"I think it's a forgotten time in American history," said DiCaprio. "It's one that was edited out of my history books as a student: the persecution and racism that immigrants had to endure from the moment they set foot in our country. It's very much a microcosm for a much larger story about America and this experiment of democracy: how different races and religions come together and try to live together."

Also featuring Cameron Diaz and Liam Neeson, Gangs of New York fights on in fifth place.

Gotham of today is the setting for Maid in Manhattan,an update of the Cinderella fairy tale, with hotel chambermaid Jennifer Lopez winning the heart of a wealthy politician. Ralph Fiennes co-stars and Maid in Manhattan slips to number four.

Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant co-star in another romantic comedy set in Manhattan. In Two Weeks Notice she is an activist attorney, he is a rich playboy and the two naturally fall in love. Grant says there's a special challenge to the film's snappy dialog reminiscent of the classic 1940s battle-of-the-sexes comedies.

"It is tricky not to sound fake or sort of obnoxious," Grant said. "You just have to keep your eye on that all the time and try, as hard as you can, to mean it. Which is odd because so many of your instincts as a comedy actor are just to get the laugh. The trick is to try to be real at the same time, because if you start begging for the laugh you just won't get it." Two Weeks Notice is in third place.

Tom Hanks is an FBI agent on the trail of forger and impostor Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can, based on the true story of Frank Abagnale, who, in the 1960s, impersonated professionals ranging from airline pilot to doctor and lawyer. DiCaprio says he did not expect to be in two major films in theaters at the same time.

"I don't really think about it because it's really a concidence that they're coming out at the same time. I started Gangs Of New York three years ago," DiCaprio said. "I had a year and two month pre-production process of preparing for the film and then the filmmaking was almost nine months. Catch Me If You Can was something more of an independent-spirited 'road' movie that I did this year. I would never have imagined they'd come out at the same time."

Directed by Steven Spielberg, Catch Me If You Can has a strong opening in second place; but it can't catch the fantasy adventure held over at number one.

Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers is the second of a film trilogy adapted from the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien. John Rhys-Davies provides comic relief as Gimli, the warrior dwarf.

"Gimli is inherently comic and I think the reason is that to all intents and purposes he does not realize he's smaller than anybody else," said Rhys-Davies. "There is that terrible moment at the end where he is forced to face up to his worst nightmare that, in fact, his legs aren't quite as big as other people's and there is a physical constraint. It's a dark night of the soul for dwarves, I tell you."

Co-written and directed by New Zealand filmmaker Peter Jackson, Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers stands tall as the most popular movie at North American theaters.