'300' b.o. a Herculean feat
EmptyZack Snyder's epic battle movie "300," from Warner Bros. Pictures, conquered the North American boxoffice with numbers no one thought possible. Bowing to an estimated $70 million for the three-day frame, the adaptation of the Frank Miller graphic novel proved that R-rated movies can dominate the boxoffice if they tell a compelling story.
Aided by 62 overperforming Imax theaters and a unique marketing campaign, the ultraviolent "300" grossed a staggering per-theater average of $22,567, making it the highest-grossing March opening ever and the third- highest-grossing R-rated opener behind "The Matrix Reloaded" and "The Passion of the Christ."
Based on the story of Sparta's King Leonidas and his 300 warriors battling the massive Persian army in the Battle of Thermopylae, "300" pushed the North American boxoffice to a close to 50% gain compared with last year at this time, when three films opened to a combined $55 million.
The visually stimulating "300" also seemed to lure audiences to other theaters. With the exception of Paramount Pictures' "Zodiac," which fell 49% in its sophomore session, no film in the top 10 dropped more then 41% for the frame. The previous weekend's topper, "Wild Hogs," from Buena Vista Pictures, held tremendously, falling a scant 29% to $28 million. The midlife crisis road-trip film starring John Travolta, Tim Allen, William H. Macy and Martin Lawrence has grossed $77.4 million after 10 days in release.
Buena Vista's other release, "Bridge to Terabithia," also is showing legs at theaters. In its fourth weekend in release, the Walden Media-produced family film grossed an estimated $6.8 million to put its total at $67 million.
Sony Pictures' "Ghost Rider," also in its fourth weekend, dropped 41% to earn an estimated $6.8 million. The Marvel comic book adaptation crossed the $100 million mark, the first of the films that bowed in 2007 to do so.
As expected, "Zodiac," from director David Fincher, was the hardest hit by the impact of "300." The R-rated thriller fell to an estimated $6.8 million, putting its two-week cume at $23.7 million.
New Line Cinema's "The Number 23" fell an estimated 33% in its third weekend. Another R-rated thriller, the film, starring Jim Carrey, grossed $4.3 million to put its total at $30 million.
DreamWorks Pictures' "Norbit" continues on its path to $100 million. The Eddie Murphy-starring comedy grossed an estimated $4.3 million to put its domestic total at $88.3 million.
Warners' "Music and Lyrics" is proving to be the little movie that could. The romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore earned an estimated $3.8 million for the frame. Dropping close to 22% for its fourth weekend in theaters, the film has earned an estimated $43.8 million overall.
Universal's well-reviewed "Breach" also is hanging on. In its fourth weekend, the Chris Cooper-starring drama moved up a slot in the rankings, grabbing the No. 9 slot with $2.6 million. Overall, the film has earned close to $30 million.
IDP Distribution's release of the Samuel Goldwyn Films/Roadside Attractions co-production "Amazing Grace" jumped back into the top 10 by adding more than 200 theaters to its run. It grossed an additional $2.5 million to put its total take at $11.4 million.
Meanwhile, the convention-defying "300" is surely the story of the weekend. Warners, the studio behind "Troy" and "Alexander," took a chance on writer-director Snyder, whose previous work was the 2004 remake of George A. Romero's "Dawn of the Dead." Promising to re-invent the historical epic genre, Snyder produced the $60 million film primarily in a Montreal warehouse. And unlike the previous weekend boxoffice toppers, "300's" stylistic special effects and over-the-top battle scenes were lauded by critics and beloved by audiences, who rated the film an A- according to exit pollster CinemaScore.
The majority of the audience was, as expected, male and under 25, but that age is likely to go up as older men escape grown-up commitments to get themselves to the theater in the weeks to come.
"This movie was driven by public response and word-of-mouth. It's the best form of advertising you could have, and it's what's propelling the film," Warners domestic distribution president Dan Fellman said. "Whether it's the underdog subject matter or the visual effects, this movie makes people feel good. Snyder is a brilliant, visionary director."
"300" is also a record-breaker for Imax. The large-screen theater company boasted a $3.4 million gross on 62 screens for a record-breaking per-screen average of $54,500. Although the company was unable to play "300" in its museum locations because of the R rating, it was not handicapped in the slightest from reaching its staggering total.
"The reality is, for the last three years, we've been trying to cultivate the techie crowd," said Greg Foster, Imax president of filmed entertainment. "This time they totally got it. We didn't just break our records, we blew past them. There is literally not a seat available today at any of our theaters."
The film's opening marked a victory for producers Mark Canton, Gianni Nunnari, Bernie Goldmann, Jeff Silver and film financier and co-producer Thomas Tull.
"For a long time we felt we had something very special," said Tull, the head of Legendary Pictures. "Numbers a lot less then this still would have been gratifying and a great opening. To hit $70 million on an R-rated nonsequel is just mind-blowing."
Canton made sure to direct much of the film's success to the Warners team. Ebullient over the studio's support of the film, the veteran producer praised studio head Alan Horn, president of production Jeff Robinov, Fellman and marketing chief Dawn Taubin and her team for their support.
In limited release, Fox Searchlight bowed "The Namesake" to an impressive debut. The Mira Nair-directed film starring Kal Penn opened on six screens to an estimated $250,762, putting its per-screen average at $41,794.
Total domestic boxoffice for the week ending Thursday was $162.5 million, a 23% increase compared with the $132.7 million collected during the same week in 2006. Year to date, total domestic boxoffice hit $1.45 billion, surpassing last year's $1.44 billion. Admissions are down 3%.