March 03, 2003 10:12 AM

It’s a sure-fire recipe for box-office success: rap and martial arts.

That, at least, could explain the No. 1 ranking of “Cradle 2 The Grave,” starring rapper DMX as a gang leader and martial arts star Jet Li as a Taiwanese intelligence officer. The film debuted this weekend with a $17.1 million haul, according to movie studio estimates.

Meanwhile, other films in theaters for the past few weeks also continued to do well.

The comedy “Old School,” with Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn and Luke Wilson, landed in second place, while Ben Affleck in “Daredevil” slipped to No. 3 after topping the box office for two weekends. The Kate Hudson-Matthew McConaughey romantic comedy “How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days” was No. 4, and “Chicago” ended up in fifth place.

Speaking of the Oscar-nominated film, it crossed the $100 million mark over the weekend, making it the highest-grossing musical since “Grease” in 1978. All told, “Chicago” has earned $105.2 million in North American theaters.

(Of course, 1965’s “The Sound of Music” still remains the most popular movie musical of all time. Adjusted for the rise in ticket prices, “Music” is, in fact, the third most popular movie of all time — behind only “Gone With the Wind” and “Star Wars.” In 2003 dollars, “Music” would have made roughly $700 million in North America alone.)

This weekend’s Top 10 movies, according to studio estimates, were as follows:

1. “Cradle 2 The Grave,” $17.1 million
2. “Old School,” $13.9 million
3. “Daredevil,” $11 million
4. “How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days,” $10.1 million
5. “Chicago,” $8.1 million
6. “The Jungle Book 2,” $6.8 million
7. “Shanghai Knights,” $4.8 million
8. “The Life of David Gale,” $4.4 million
9. “Gods and Generals, $2.8 million
10. “The Recruit,” $2.6 million

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