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<i>The Last Samurai</i> Tops US Most Popular Movie List - 2003-12-10


Tom cruises to the top of the box office chart with an action-adventure set a century and a half ago. Also new this week: TV's "Dark Angel" brightens up the screen with her dance moves. Alan Silverman lists the top five films at North American theaters starting with mischievous cat from a children's book at number five.

The signature rhymes and whimsical images of Dr. Seuss come to the big screen again in the comedy The Cat In The Hat. Inspired by the long-popular children's book, it features Austin Powers star Mike Myers as the title character; and while critics knock his occasionally ribald, off-color humor as out of place in a film for young people, the slapstick comic antics are proving to be audience-pleasers for young and old alike. After two weeks at number one The Cat In The Hat tumbles to fifth place.

Will Ferrell stars as the title character in Elf, a heartwarming comedy that is the first big hit of the holiday season. The cast includes Bob Newhart as the elf who raised the human foundling at the North Pole; and the comedy veteran says it looks like fun on the screen because the cast had fun making Elf.

"We had a great time. It was a great experience from the get-go," Newhart says. "I think we knew we were making something special that was going to last and we were all going to be very proud of being associated with it. I think it's a perennial. I think it's kind of like Miracle On 34th Street."

Destined to become a yuletide classic, Elf is at number four, still a hit five weeks after its domestic debut.

The Haunted Mansion is the third film this year based on a ride at the Disneyland theme parks. The Country Bears came and went with little notice, but Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl became a mega-hit worldwide. This ghostly comedy is also the third film on this week's box office chart to feature a former star of Saturday Night Live. Like Will Ferrell and Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy became famous as a featured player on that TV sketch comedy show. The Haunted Mansion slips to third place.

Jessica Alba first hit big on TV as the star of Dark Angel. That supernatural drama and her dangerous character couldn't be more different from Honey, the sweet-natured title character she plays in her new hip-hop dance romance.

"I've traveled overseas in Paris and London and in the States and hip-hop is everywhere," she says. "It doesn't matter if you speak English or not, the kids love hip hop everywhere; and they love dancing. I just thought 'what if you combine the two?' It's a no-brainer."

With real-life hip hop artists including Lil' Romeo and Missy Elliott, Honey flows into second place in its first week out.

Japanese warriors battle their way to the top spot with Tom Cruise fighting alongside as a 19th century American war hero who learns their traditions to become The Last Samurai.

"I couldn't touch my toes when I started working on this. I bent down and couldn't get my hands past my knees," admits Cruise. " I'd done quite a bit of stunts before, but I knew the way I would have to move, just carrying the armor: you have to think 50 pounds (20 kg) of armor. It doesn't seem like much, but when you start lowering your center of gravity and bending the knees, it's a tremendous amount of pressure on the knees, the groin and the hamstrings. So I put on 25 pounds (10 kg) for the picture. I was 25 pounds of muscle heavier than I am right now."

Also featuring Japanese actor Ken Watanabe and directed by American Ed Zwick, The Last Samurai slices up the competition to debut at number one: the new most popular movie at North American theaters.

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