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March 10, 2003 01:15 PM

Queen Latifah, Oscar-nominated for her supporting role as the mercenary musical prison matron in “Chicago,” proved this weekend that she’s a box-office powerhouse, too.

She and Steve Martin, who will host the March 23 Oscarcast, pulled down a staggering $31.7 million opening for their comedy “Bringing Down the House,” according to studio estimates.

Industry observers noted that, despite poor critical notices, “House” had the third-biggest March opening ever, behind the 2002 releases “Ice Age” and “Blade 2,” and the strongest opening ever for a Martin film.

In it, Latifah plays an escaped convict who finagles her way into the home of an uptight suburban attorney (Martin).

Meanwhile, the new Bruce Willis war movie, the grim “Tears of the Sun,” came in a distant second.

Last weekend’s No. 2 film, the comedy “Old School,” slipped to the third spot, while Latifah’s other movie, the heavily Oscar-nominated “Chicago,” stayed strong in its 11th week, landing in the No. 4 spot.

The Top 10 movies for the past weekend, according to estimates, were as follows:

1. “Bringing Down the House,” $31.7 million
2. “Tears of the Sun,” $17.2 million
3. “Old School,” $9.2 million
4. “Chicago,” $6.9 million
5. “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” $6.8 million
6. “Cradle 2 the Grave,” $6.6 million
7. “Daredevil,” $5.2 million
8. “The Jungle Book 2,” $4.2 million
9. “Shanghai Knights,” $2.7 million
10. “The Life of David Gale,” $2.1 million

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