Inside Man heisted millions and got away as the top film of the weekend. Who says crime doesn't pay?

Spike Lee's bank-robbery thriller, featuring the high-octane trio of Denzel Washington, Clive Owen and Jodie Foster, opened with $29 million, according to final studio figures Monday.

The R rated Universal release marks Lee's biggest ever opening, easily topping his previous best, the 2000 concert film The Original Kings of Comedy, which opened with $11.6 million. It was also the best opening for Washington, whose 2004 kidnap thriller Man of Fire debuted with $22.7 million. (Washington and Lee previously teamed on the biopic Malcolm X and the basketball drama He Got Game.)

Washington, who plays the detective assigned as hostage negotiator in a bank robbery (masterminded by Owen's slick thief), was the number one reason audiences cited for wanting to see the movie. The second reason was costar Foster, who plays a tough corporate fixer hired to makes sure that the bank's dark secrets aren't brought to light by the crime.

"They were motivated to go. They love the material, they love the actors," Nikki Rocco, Universal's distribution head, told the Associated Press.

Inside Man averaged a whopping $10,275 at 2,818 sites, exceeding the studio's expectations. Rocco says the movie played to a crossover audience, appealing strongly to the over-30 crowd, while pulling in slightly more males than females. The film, which cost a reported $45 million, also earned $9.6 million over the weekend in overseas release, opening as the top movie in both Germany and the U.K.

With V for Vendetta securing second place (earning $12.3 million its second weekend, off 52 percent from its top-grossing debut), Stay Alive, a death-by-videogame horror flick and no relation to the horrific John Travolta bomb, could only register a third-place opening of $10.7 million. The PG-13 release from Disney's Buena Vista division, featuring young TV stars Sophia Bush and Frankie Muniz, played at 2,009 sites and averaged $5,339.

Also new in the top 10 was Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector, starring the guy himself, Dan Whitney. Lionsgate's blue-collar comedy plugged in at number seven with just $6.9 million, averaging $4,048 at 1,710 sites.

In limited release, the top newcomer was the Steve Buscemi-helmed drama Lonesome Jim, starring Casey Affleck as a failed writer who moves back in with his parents. The IFC release played on just two screens, where it averaged $6,899 for a total of $13,798.

Also debuting on the art-house circuit was the Cannes-winning import L'Enfant, directed by the Belgian brothers Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne. The Sony Pictures Classics release, about a petty thief who sells his kid, unspooled at seven sites and averaged $6,362 for $44,537.

Meanwhile, in its second week, Thank You For Smoking continued to light up screens. Expanded to 54 locations, the Fox Searchlight release averaged $18,591 per screen for $1 million to bring its total to $1.4 million.

Also continuing swimmingly was the Imax documentary Deep Sea 3-D, which in its fourth week averaged $13,423 at 46 theaters for $617,467, bringing the Warner Bros. release's gross to $3.6 million.

Overall the top 12 films tallied a combined $97.8 million, up 6 percent over last weekend and 9 percent over this time last year, when Guess Who dined on top.

Here's a recap of the top-grossing films Friday-Sunday as compiled by Exhibitor Relations:

1. Inside Man, $29 million
2. V for Vendetta, $12.3 million
3. Stay Alive, $10.7 million
4. Failure to Launch, $10.5 million
5. The Shaggy Dog, $9 million
6. She's the Man, $7.3 million
7. Larry The Cable Guy: Health Inspector, $6.9 million
8. The Hills Have Eyes, $4.4 million
9. Eight Below, $2.7 million
10. 16 Blocks, $2.2 million

(Originally published Mar 26 2006 11:45 a.m. PT.)

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