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<i>The Santa Clause 2</i> Tops US Most Popular Movie List - 2002-11-06

Christmas is more than a month away, but North American movie audiences unwrap an early holiday present for a family-friendly seasonal sequel. Also new to the box office chart this week: the latest big screen version of an old TV show. Alan Silverman lists the top five films starting with a seagoing thriller at number five.

A derelict oceanliner reveals its deadly secrets in Ghost Ship. Gabriel Byrne and Juliana Margulies co-star as leaders of a salvage crew caught in a supernatural struggle. Margulies says she struggled to make her character interesting.

"I understand that it's a 'popcorn movie.' I understand it's what it is and it's Halloween; but I wanted to make a character that would make you say 'yeah, I believe she does that,' says Margulies. "She was a sort of self-made hero in a way because she doesn't start out that way. It's survival of the fittest. As she goes along, she is just forced into playing this part. I liked that about her. I thought she had humor up until it was pain and then it was just about surviving."

Ghost Ship sinks to fifth place.

Last week's top film tumbles to number four. Jackass, The Movie is a feature-length version of the hit cable TV show featuring outrageous (and often stupid) stunts like hurtling face first down a bowling alley toward the pins.

Comedian Johnny Knoxville stars and Jackass, The Movie ends up in fourth place.

Arrogant egotistical boxer Eddie Murphy is teamed with deadly serious secret agent Owen Wilson in I Spy, a new action-comedy loosely based on the 1960s TV series of the same name. Wilson says keeping up with co-star Murphy's improvised ad lib antics was a challenge.

"In lots of movies I have improvised and feel like I'm pretty comfortable improvising, but it was a whole different game with Eddie," says Wilson, "Because he was just really quick coming up with stuff. Once we figured out how my character would relate to him, then I got into the swing of it and it became kind of fun to be able to throw out something and know that he was going to be able to riff on it."

The latest in a string of disappointing openings for movies starring Eddie Murphy, I Spy barely sees itself to third place in its first week out.

The Ring is adapted from a popular Japanese thriller. Naomi Watts stars as a reporter who goes deep to uncover the secret of a deadly (and possibly supernatural) videotape. The Ring is held over at number two; but the new first place film is a comedy sequel that puts family audiences in a holiday mood. Eight years ago in The Santa Clause ordinary guy Tim Allen magically became the gift-bearing jolly old elf of Christmastime. In The Santa Clause 2 he has to take drastic action in order to keep the keys to the reindeer sleigh.

Allen says the new movie uses new technology to make the story even more fun.

"We got some of the best people that create the magic in Hollywood to look at this through kids' eye (mine included)," says Allen. " I didn't want it to look fake, so we build the reindeer. The reindeer are actually articulated. There was very little (computer animation) involved in any of that; and we were up high in the air so we were able to get the cameras there. A lot of the angles in movies make the magic and we were able to get the angles there. A lot of things combined to make it really clever once we weaved them in. Kids don't know, but this is for the adults. It's really an adult movie."

Elizabeth Mitchell co-stars as the prospective Mrs. Claus and The Santa Clause 2 debuts at number one: the new most popular movie at North American theaters.