LOS ANGELES -- "Signs" ran crop circles around the competition to top an unusually strong weekend box office for August.
The film, starring Mel Gibson as a farmer who finds mysterious patterns marking his fields, raked in $60.3 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
The top 12 movies grossed an estimated $143 million, down 12 percent from the same weekend last year but still an unexpectedly strong showing, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
"All of a sudden comes a month where a $60 million opening is possible. It used to be called the 'dog days of August.' It was a slowdown period. Well, this is no slowdown period anymore," Dergarabedian said.
Three low-budget films opened to modest takes. "The Master of Disguise" eked out third place in a market crowded with family films, taking in $13 million.
In fourth place, "Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat" opened to $7.5 million. The film follows comedian Lawrence on a 2001 standup tour.
Steven Soderbergh's "Full Frontal" debuted with just $725,000. The comedy about a group of Los Angeles oddballs had been billed as a return to Soderbergh's low-budget roots honed more than a decade ago with "sex, lies and videotape." That film made about $25 million. "Full Frontal" is on track to make just $3 million to $4 million domestically, said David Kaminow, senior vice president of marketing for Miramax.
"Austin Powers in Goldmember," the third installment in the spy-spoof series, slipped to the No. 2 spot in its second week of release, making $32.4 million for a total of $143 million. The film is the 11th release this year to pass the $100 million mark.
For "Signs," the opening was the best ever for both Gibson and the film's writer-director, M. Night Shyamalan. Shyamalan also directed "Sixth Sense" and "Unbreakable."
The Gibson-Shyamalan combination, plus the public's interest in the crop circle phenomenon, made for a powerful draw, said Dick Cook, chairman of Walt Disney Studios.
"In order to get a number like that you have to have all those things working," Cook said.
"My Big Fat Greek Wedding" continued its strong showing, climbing to eighth place from 10th last weekend. The comedy has made $40 million since debuting 16 weeks ago as it moves up the chart and adds theaters.
Next weekend is expected to be a profitable one as well, with the release of Sony Pictures' "XXX," a thriller starring Vin Diesel.
1. "Signs," $60.3 million.
2. "Austin Powers in Goldmember," $32.4 million.
3. "The Master of Disguise," $13 million.
4. "Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat," $7.5 million.
5. "Road to Perdition," $6.6 million.
6. "Stuart Little 2," $6 million.
7. "Men in Black 2," $4.7 million.
8. "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," $3.01 million.
9 (tie). "K-19: The Widowmaker," $3 million.
9 (tie). "The Country Bears," $3 million.