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<i>The Cat in The Hat</i> Tops US Most Popular Movie List - 2003-12-03

Cat comes back. The comedy film adapted from a popular children's book is number one for a second straight week according to studio estimates; but it's just a whisker ahead of a new family comedy - this one based on a popular and scary theme park ride. Alan Silverman lists the week's top five films at North American theaters starting with an adventure of men, ships and the sea at number five.

The 19th century British Navy exploits from the popular novels by Patrick O'Brien come to the screen in Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World. Russell Crowe is captain 'Lucky Jack' Aubrey.

"I've never concerned myself with the commerciality of movies. It's got to be something that people can watch in 10 years and it's still relevant in terms of its story... if not 20 years. If you go back all the way through the movies that I've made, the emphasis always has been on 'what is the story,' says Crowe.

Directed by Peter Weir, Master And Commander sails on in fifth place.

Halle Berry is a psychiatrist who may be haunted or may just be losing her mind in the gothic thriller Gothika. Either way, Berry says it's scary.

"Usually it's good music that sort of starts to freak me out. I remember when I watched Jaws, all I had to hear was [the music] and I'm already scared," admits Berry. "It's the music that gets me going. I also like when the scares come and they're not in predictable places and you don't expect it. There are some scares that do scare you but you kind of know it's about to come. Those rare moments when you can have a real scare that you're not expecting is what I really like."

Penelope Cruz co-stars and Gothika slips to number four.

The top three spots belong to family-friendly films. Elf stands tall as the first hit of the holiday season. Will Ferrell stars as a normal human raised at the North Pole by Santa's elves. When he finds out his true background he travels to New York to find his real father, played by perennial tough guy James Caan.

"I think it's pretty funny. It's a Christmas 'feel good' movie for grown-ups as well; and Will is really funny," he says.

Elf, directed by Jon Favreau, is held over in third place.

The Disney studio had a big hit earlier in the year with Pirates Of The Caribbean, inspired by a ride at the Magic Kingdom theme parks. From that Adventureland attraction go past Frontierland to Liberty Square and the next ride adapted for the screen: The Haunted Mansion.

Eddie Murphy stars as a real estate agent who really earns his commission trying to sell the specter-infested estate.

"Whenever I go to Disneyland that's one of the first rides I want to go to. I don't know what causes the mystique about haunted houses and all that type of stuff, but I always like it," says Murphy. "Whenever I go to theme parks I like the 'spooky house' and The Haunted Mansion is the definitive spooky house. The movie has much more happening than the ride. You go on the ride and it is what it is; but the movie is imagination run wild."

Veteran English actor Terence Stamp plays the creepy butler; Jennifer Tilley is the medium inside her own crystal ball; and Oscar-winning creature-maker Rick Baker creates the look of the 999 odd ghosts lurking about. The Haunted Mansion has a strong debut in second place; but there is no scaring The Cat In The Hat from the top spot. Mike Myers brings his ribald humor to the screen version of the oversized feline from the Dr. Seuss children's classic.

"The Cat In The Hat still is my favorite book of all time because of its central idea that it's fun to have fun, but you have to know how," says Myers. "For people who don't know how to have fun it says 'lighten up;' for people who have too much fun, it says 'have fun in balance.'"

The Cat In The Hat weathers withering negative reviews to land on its feet in first place. For the second straight week, it's the most popular movie at North American theaters.