December 08, 2003 05:19 PM

Topping “The Cat in the Hat” and other holiday competition, Tom Cruise once again proved his drawing power as “The Last Samurai” came in first at the weekend box office, according to movie studio estimates.

Even so, say industry experts, the war epic’s estimated $24.4 million in ticket sales fell somewhat short of expectations, with blame being placed on the major snowfall that socked in a vast section of the northeast.

Cruise’s other recent films have had bigger openings, including the $35.6 million debut for “Minority Report” and the $57.8 million bow of “Mission: Impossible II,” the Associated Press reports.

The R-rated “Samurai,” which is nearly two-and-a-half hours long and earned mixed reviews, basically equaled the opening of Cruise’s critically lambasted “Vanilla Sky,” which made $25 million its first weekend. (Ticket prices also have increased in the two years since “Sky” opened.)

In its third week, “Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat” slipped to fifth place this past weekend. It has earned $85.5 million to date — far behind 2000’s “Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” starring Jim Carrey. By its third week, “Grinch” had made about $172 million, and ultimately earned $260 million, reports AP.

Jessica Alba in “Honey,” the only other new movie to open wide on Friday, made it to second place, despite generally poor reviews that in some cases compared it to Mariah Carey’s notorious “Glitter.” Ouch.

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

1. “The Last Samurai,” $24.4 million
2. “Honey,” $14 million
3. “The Haunted Mansion,” $9.5 million
4. “Elf,” $8.1 million
5. “Dr. Seuss’s the Cat in the Hat,” $7.3 million
6. “Bad Santa,” $7 million
7. “Gothika,” $5.3 million
8. “The Missing,” $4.4 million
9. “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” $3.8 million
10. “Love Actually,” $3.7 million

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