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'Bringing Down the House' brings in the box office profits

"Bringing Down the House," starring Queen Latifah and Steve Martin, took in $31.7 million to open as the weekend's No. 1 film, according to studio estimates Sunday. It was the third-biggest March opening ever, behind the 2002 releases "Ice Age" and "Blade 2," and the strongest opening ever for a Martin film.

The Bruce Willis war movie "Tears of the Sun" took in $17.2 million to open at No. 2.

"Bringing Down the House" follows Latifah as an escaped convict who worms her way into the affluent suburban home of an uptight attorney played by Martin and the uproar that follows. The film was panned by critics but drew huge audiences, thanks in part to strong marketing by Disney.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters:

1. "Bringing Down the House," $31.7 million.

2. "Tears of the Sun," $17.2 million.

3. "Old School," $9.2 million.

4. "Chicago," $6.9 million.

5. "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days," $6.8 million.

6. "Cradle 2 the Grave," $6.6 million.

7. "Daredevil," $5.2 million.

8. "The Jungle Book 2," $4.2 million.

9. "Shanghai Knights," $2.7 million.

10. "The Life of David Gale," $2.1 million.

Gibson finances church complex

New York -- Actor Mel Gibson is the person behind a 9,300-square-foot, Mission-style Catholic church complex in Malibu, Calif., that is not affiliated with any diocese.

The star of "Braveheart," "Lethal Weapon" and "Mad Max" financed the building for about 70 fellow members of the ultraconservative group Holy Family, according to Sunday's The New York Times Magazine.

Among other things, Holy Family and other so-called traditionalist congregations conduct Sunday Mass in Latin.

Gibson has never minimized the importance of his religion, but of late it is even showing up in his work, the magazine noted.

Last year he portrayed two characters deeply affected by their religion -- a former minister in "Signs," about an alien invasion, and a Catholic lieutenant in the war drama "We Were Soldiers."

Currently, Gibson is directing a film that depicts the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus Christ. The movie, "The Passion," is in production in Rome, with the actors speaking only Latin and Aramaic.

School profits from singer's taste

Wilkesboro, N.C.-- An elementary school is cashing in on a wardrobe decision by pop singer Avril Lavigne.

She wears a Wilkesboro Elementary School T-shirt in the video for her song "Sk8er Boi."

The green-and-gold T-shirts hadn't been sold for at least four years, but with the Canadian singer giving them new currency, the school's Parent Teacher Organization ordered 500.

About 300 of the shirts have been sold on eBay to buyers as far away as Sweden and Thailand, said Marcia Reynolds, the school's PTO president.

"It's kind of exciting that people all over the world are seeing our school's name," Reynolds said.

The shirts sell for $20 online or $10 at the school. The proceeds will be used to buy computers.

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