November 22, 2004 08:00 AM

It was a close battle, but Nicolas Cage soaked SpongeBob SquarePants to claim the top spot at the weekend box office.

National Treasure, starring Cage as a fortune hunter looking for a secret cache deposited by the Founding Fathers, pulled in $35.3 million to debut at No. 1. It’s the fourth collaboration between Cage and action-movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer – and the pair’s most successful venture yet, topping the $25.3 million opening for 2000’s Gone in Sixty Seconds.

Part of Treasure’s appeal may be due to its PG rating, which could have helped draw in younger audiences. The rating “expands the size of your audience so you get a much bigger spread of folks coming in,” said Chuck Viane, head of Disney distribution, which released the film.

The box-office draw was heavy with family-friendly movies. In addition to The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, which finished in the second spot with $33.5 million, Pixar’s popular superhero cartoon The Incredibles finished in third and the Tom Hanks holiday film Polar Express was fourth.

It was the second weekend in which studio revenue rose after a stagnant fall season, the Associated Press reports. Hollywood executives are hoping that these numbers are a good indication of the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend – one year’s busiest at the movies.

“With this many family films, it’s going to be a bloodbath,” said Paul Dergarabedian of Exhibitor Relation, which tracks box-office receipts. “The Incredibles is going to be a huge factor (and) Spongy is going to be a huge factor,” he said.

Here are the estimates for the weekend’s top 10 films:

1. National Treasure, $35.3 million
2. The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, $33.5 million
3. The Incredibles, $26.8 million
4. The Polar Express, $15.2 million
5. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, $10.1 million
6. After the Sunset, $5.3 million
7. Ray, $4.6 million
8. The Grudge, $3.8 million
9. Seed of Chucky, $3.1 million
10. Saw, $3 million

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