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`The Last Samurai' cruises to victory at the box office

LOS ANGELES -- "The Last Samurai" came in first at the weekend box office as the Tom Cruise war epic cut down the competition with $24.4 million in ticket sales, according to studio estimates yesterday.


In the film, Cruise plays a downtrodden Civil War veteran who reclaims honor by forging a bond with samurai warriors -- despite having been brought to Japan to quash their rebellion by training a mercenary army for the Japanese emperor.

Cruise's other recent films have opened stronger, such as the $35.6 million debut for "Minority Report" and the $57.8 million opening of "Mission: Impossible II."

"Samurai," which is nearly two-and-a-half hours long, had a similar opening gross to "Vanilla Sky," which collected $25 million in its first weekend.

"It's almost a lock that every time he opens a movie it comes in at number one. This guy is box office insurance personified," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "For an R-rated film, a very long film, a period epic -- I think this speaks to Tom Cruise's drawing power."

The debut of "Samurai" toppled last week's No. 1 movie, "Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat," which fell to fifth place with $7.3 million.

So far, "Cat" has earned $85.5 million, according to Universal Pictures, placing it far behind the studio's 2000 Jim Carrey comedy, "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas," which had collected about $172 million at the same point in its release. "Grinch" earned $260 million by the end of its run.

The Jessica Alba aspiring-dancer melodrama "Honey," the only other movie opening in wide release, ranked second this weekend with $14 million despite generally poor reviews, some of which compared its story to the infamous Mariah Carey bomb "Glitter."

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