LOS ANGELES - Audiences gave their votes to Chris Rock and put his presidential farce "Head of State" in the lead with a weekend box office of $14 million.
The Steve Martin and Queen Latifah comedy "Bringing Down the House," the top movie for three straight weekends, held the runner-up slot with $12.5 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
The journey-to-the-center-of-the-Earth adventure "The Core," starring Aaron Eckhart and Hilary Swank, opened in third place with $12.4 million. Debuting at No. 4 was the John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson military thriller "Basic," with $12.1 million.
"Chicago," last weekend's Academy Awards champ with six trophies including best picture, rode its Oscar triumph to a $7.4 million weekend, up 20 percent from a week earlier. That gave it a three-month total of $144.9 million.
In limited release, Robert Duvall's "Assassination Tango," the story of a hit man enchanted by Argentina's dance culture, debuted with a solid $64,000 in seven theaters. Along with starring, Duvall wrote and directed the film.
An overall box-office slump continued. The top 12 movies grossed $87.3 million, down 24 percent compared to the same weekend a year ago, when "Panic Room" had a big $30 million opening and "Ice Age" remained a strong holdover.
Overall, movie revenues are down 5 percent to 6 percent compared to last year's, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
"It's been significantly depressed I think based on the distraction of what's going on in the world," said Rob Friedman, motion-picture vice chairman at Paramount, which released "The Core."
The box office is expected to rebound as big summer flicks start arriving. The Adam Sandler-Jack Nicholson comedy "Anger Management" warms things up in mid-April, followed by the May debuts of the "X-Men" sequel "X2" and the sci-fi follow-up "The Matrix Reloaded."
The war might be steering audiences more toward comedies, which account for six of the year's 10 top-grossing movies. Weekend audiences chose funny flicks such as "Head of State" and "Bringing Down the House" over action tales like "The Core" and "Basic."
"There's strong evidence that comedies are on people's minds," said Jim Tharp, head of distribution for DreamWorks, which released "Head of State."
"Bringing Down the House" also might have benefited from the Oscars awards show, where Martin was host and Queen Latifah was an acting nominee for "Chicago."
"Steve Martin was front and center, he mentioned the movie a couple of times, you had Queen Latifah in the audience. That couldn't hurt," Dergarabedian said. "The Oscars were like a nice three-hour infomercial for `Bringing Down the House.'"
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Head of State," $14 million.
2. "Bringing Down the House," $12.5 million.
3. "The Core," $12.4 million.
4. "Basic," $12.1 million.
5. "Chicago," $7.4 million.
6. "Dreamcatcher," $6.4 million.
7. "Agent Cody Banks," $6.1 million.
8. "Piglet's Big Movie," $4.6 million.
9. "View From the Top," $3.8 million.
10. "The Hunted," $3.7 million.