The Top Five

#1 "Norbit" ($33.7 million)
#2 "Hannibal Rising" ($13.3 million)
#3 "Because I Said So" ($9 million)
#4 "The Messengers" ($7.2 million)
#5 "Night at the Museum" ($5.7 million)

Cue that one-of-a-kind Eddie Murphy laugh. The Academy Award-nominated star has another reason to be giddy today with "Norbit" dominating the competition and opening to a stellar $33.7 million at the box office. The debut is the actor's biggest — discounting the "Shrek" films, which are more than Murphy vehicles — since 2000's "The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps." Like that flick, "Norbit" is another multi-character turn for Murphy, a gimmick audiences clearly haven't tired of yet. With Murphy the front-runner for the Best Supporting Actor prize at the Oscars and "Shrek the Third" slated for release this summer, 2007 could be the biggest year for him since he wore a skin-tight red-leather outfit. Remarkably, "Norbit" is the 14th #1 opening in Murphy's career.

Bowing far behind in the second spot was "Hannibal Rising," which may mark the end of cinema's favorite cannibal's box-office run. The soft $13.3 million debut for the thriller was a far cry from "Red Dragon" — the previous installment of the series based on Thomas Harris' books — which earned $36 million in its 2002 opening. Moviegoers weren't prepared, it seems, to trace back the dark beginnings of the mad doctor — at least not without Anthony Hopkins along for the ride.

Both of last week's top new films, "The Messengers" and "Because I Said So," dipped further down the top 10 — the former falling a steep 51 percent — to give way to the newcomers. Meanwhile Ben Stiller continues to maintain a grip on the top five with his blockbuster "Night at the Museum" grossing a still-healthy $5.7 million. Apparently there are a few people left in the U.S. who haven't seen this flick yet.

Looking beyond the top five, Guillermo del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" continued to show impressive legs, earning $3.5 million even as it competes against films playing in twice as many theaters. To look at the bottom of the top 10 films at the box office is to be reminded that the Oscars are just around the corner, with critically lauded flicks like "The Queen" and "Dreamgirls" squeezing out every last dollar before Ellen DeGeneres takes the stage February 25.

How'd We Do

"Norbit" 's strong showing at the box office didn't just make Eddie Murphy look good, it also meant our three prognosticators were right on the money (see "Projection Booth: Will 'Norbit' Flatten 'Hannibal Rising' "). But our trio underestimated Murphy's box office clout as his $33.7 million surpassed even the highest prediction (this writer's $31 million.)

Prognosticator (Weeks Won)
Josh Horowitz, MTV Movies Editor (9)
Larry Carroll, MTV News Writer (5)
Celebrity guest (2)

In Perspective

For someone touted as having a comeback year, Eddie Murphy doesn't seem to have ever been that down and out. From his film debut in the surprise 1982 hit "48 Hours" to "Norbit," 25 years of starring roles have meant a lot of money for Murphy and his collaborators. Here's a look at Eddie Murphy's five biggest hits — with the totals of his earlier films adjusted for ticket price inflation — from a career still very much in its prime.

· "Shrek 2" (2004) - $441 million
· "Shrek" (2001) - $267 million
· "Beverly Hills Cop" (1984) - $234 million ($441 million)
· "Beverly Hills Cop II" (1987) - $153 million ($258 million)
· "Doctor Dolittle" (1998) - $144 million

Next week

Buy some flowers, grab some chocolates and nail down those plans with your special someone — Valentine's Day is Wednesday and Hollywood knows it. Indeed both of this week's major offerings are opening early, hoping to be a part of your Valentine's plans.

Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore have both starred in their share of Valentine-friendly flicks. Now they're trying to make sweet box-office music together playing a songwriting team in "Music and Lyrics." The major new competition for Hugh-and-Drew's would-be box-office crown will be Tyler Perry, the actor/director that's always just under Hollywood's radar (see "He's A Box-Office Star, But People Are Still Asking: 'Who's Tyler Perry?' "). But just take a look at the amazing grosses of his last two "Madea" films to realize that "Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls" means business this coming weekend.

Check out everything we've got on "Norbit" and "Hannibal Rising".

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