The mighty Spartans won a glorious victory at North American theaters as the bloody war epic "300" exploded with a record-breaking opening and powered the overall marketplace to the biggest March weekend in box office history.
Selling more tickets than all its enemies in the top ten combined, the ancient battle film exceeded even the loftiest of industry expectations conquering every multiplex it invaded. Despite the colossal strength of "300," holdovers performed well with most witnessing relatively small declines of 35% or less.
Capitalizing on intense pre-release anticipation, the Warner Bros. actioner "300" rallied to a staggering $70M opening weekend, according to estimates, ruling the box office with the greatest of ease. The violent and stylish R-rated tale played in only 3,103 theaters and averaged a sensational $22,567 per theater. The tally included a potent $3.4M from 62 higher-priced Imax venues ($54,839 average) marking a new opening weekend record for the large-screen format. Rival studios were scared away from the frame as no other major film dared to go head-to-head in wide release. The lack of competition helped to keep the focus of moviegoers on just one entertaining feature.
If the estimate holds, "300" will set a new March opening weekend record beating the $68M bow of "Ice Age: The Meltdown" from last year. That PG-rated toon played to a wider family audience and averaged a weaker $17,163 from nearly 4,000 theaters. The saga of King Leonidas and his battalion of brave Spartan warriors grossed a stunning $27.7M on Friday (including midnight shows from Thursday night), dropped an understandable 11% to $24.5M on Saturday, and is projected to slide only 27% to $17.8M on Sunday. Final weekend grosses will be reported on Monday.
"300" also generated the third largest opening ever for an R-rated film trailing just "The Matrix Reloaded" ($91.8M) and "The Passion of the Christ" ($83.8M). And among non-sequels, it was the seventh biggest debut in history following "Spider-Man" ($114.8M), "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone" ($90.3M), "Passion," "The Da Vinci Code" ($77.1M), "The Incredibles" ($70.5M), and "Finding Nemo" ($70.3M). 300 also posted the sixth largest bow in studio history for Warner Bros. after the four "Potter" pics and the first "Matrix" sequel.
The sheer size of the audience was eye-popping for the stylish film which chronicles the Battle of Thermopylae between the warriors of Sparta and the mighty Persian army led by its ruler Xerxes in 480 B.C. Historical war epics like "The Last Samurai" and "Troy" made tons of money worldwide ($450-500M each) but after flops like "Alexander" and "The Alamo," Hollywood ran the genre into the ground. Warner Bros. developed a new look that audiences would crave with "300" which is based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller. With digital effects, a stylized look, and brilliant marketing materials, the film began generating excitement last fall when the first trailers debuted. The studio should send a case of Cristal to the team that cut the trailers as they certainly ignited the spark leading to the fever-pitched anticipation.
With a reported budget of only $65M, "300" will easily become a major moneymaker for the studio especially since international theatrical and worldwide video revenue look to be explosive. The film had no pricey stars and featured epic battle scenes created by computers thereby eliminating the need to shoot on location with thousands of extras. In fact, only one scene in the enite film was shot outdoors. "300" debuted in only a handful of overseas markets this weekend but box office was impressive there as well. The film opened at number one in Greece, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, and the Philippines with a combined gross of $6.2M from just 337 prints for a $18,398 per-print average which is phenomenal given the average ticket prices in those countries. The bloody actioner invades Korea later this week and attacks France, Italy, Spain, Mexico, and the U.K. on the following weekend.
For those in a less violent mood this weekend, Buena Vista’s middle-aged motorcycle movie "Wild Hogs" was the ticket. The Tim Allen–John Travolta biker comedy dropped only 29% in its second weekend to an estimated $28M giving the studio a fantastic $77.4M in only ten days of release. Moviegoers are paying no attention to the universally poor reviews for "Hogs" which has now generated the second highest ten-day start of any film this year after "Ghost Rider"’s $79M. The star-driven comedy could be on course to reach $150M or more domestically giving Disney a lucrative hit.
Ticket buyers were fixated on either "300" or "Wild Hogs" this weekend as the dynamic duo combined for a towering $98M in grosses accounting for a whopping 72% of all cash spent on the top ten films. Overall, the top ten posted its second best performance of 2007 with $136.1M narrowly trailing the $138.1M three-day tally from Presidents’ Day weekend when "Ghost Rider" attacked. The North American box office is clearly alive and well.
The rest of the top five saw three films in a narrow range with estimates that were separated by less than $100,000. Final data to be released on Monday could see the rankings change. Third place, for now, went to Disney’s "Bridge to Terabithia" which grossed an estimated $6.9M, down only 23%, for a $67M cume. Also in its fourth weekend, Sony’s "Ghost Rider" fell 41% to an estimated $6.8M raising the total to $104.1M making the Nicolas Cage actioner the first film of 2007 to break the $100M mark. 300 and "Wild Hogs" could also join the century club as early as next weekend.
Fifth place went to the well-reviewed serial killer pic "Zodiac" which took in an estimated $6.8M, down a disturbing 49%, for a ten-day tally of $23.7M. Paramount’s $65M production hoped to benefit from word-of-mouth, but instead suffered the worst drop by far of any film in the top ten thanks in part to competition from its R-rated foe 300. A disappointing final take of $34-37M seems likely making it director David Fincher‘s lowest grossing film ever.
A pair of funnymen followed with estimated weekend grosses of $4.3M a piece. Jim Carrey‘s psychological thriller "The Number 23" dipped 33% and upped its cume to $30.5M for New Line. The Eddie Murphy comedy "Norbit" also shed one third of its audience but lifted its total to a more impressive $88.3M for Paramount.
"Music and Lyrics," the romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore, followed with an estimated $3.8M. Off only 22%, the Warner Bros. title has taken in $43.8M to date. Universal’s thriller "Breach" collected an estimated $2.6M, down 28%, for a $29.1M sum. The slave trade drama "Amazing Grace" rounded out the top ten with an estimated $2.5M. Distributors Samuel Goldwyn and Roadside Attractions added over 200 theaters and enjoyed the smallest dip in the top ten sliding just 11%. Cume to date stands at $11.4M.
Fox Searchlight generated the biggest opening weekend average of the year with the launch of Mira Nair‘s "The Namesake" which bowed to an estimated $251,000 from only six locations for a muscular per-theater average of $41,794. Starring Kal Penn, the PG-13 film about an Indian family and their American-born children platformed in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Toronto and will expand on Friday into additional markets. Reviews were mostly good.
Also opening in limited release was the Korean monster movie "The Host" with an estimated $320,000 from 71 theaters for a mild $4,507 average. The Magnolia release about a family that fights a mutated sea creature made its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival last year and has already played in most of Asia. Critics were overwhelmingly giving praise.
Fox Faith, the new division of Fox dedicated to uplifting religious-themed pictures, opened its new film "The Ultimate Gift" over the weekend to an estimated $1.2M from 816 sites for a poor $1,471 average. The PG-rated film stars James Garner and Abigail Breslin and did not earn many positive reviews.
A pair of struggling films tumbled out of the top ten over the weekend suffering large declines. The Samuel L. Jackson–Christina Ricci pic "Black Snake Moan" fell 55% in its second weekend to an estimated $1.9M. The Paramount Vantage release has collected only $7.3M in its first ten days and should end with around $10M. Fox’s comedy "Reno 911!: Miami" collapsed in its third weekend dropping 65% to an estimated $1.4M. With $19.1M in 17 days, look for a finish just north of $20M.
The top ten films grossed an estimated $136.1M (a new March record) which was up a stunning 53% from last year when "Failure to Launch" opened at number one with $24.4M; and up a solid 35% from 2005 when "Robots" debuted on top with $36M.
Source: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com