'300' bow anything but spartan

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Warner Bros. Pictures' "300" bows today, and the fanboys can hardly contain themselves. The hyperstylized, ultraviolent film from director Zack Snyder has created so much advance buzz that all the other Hollywood studios have left it alone for the weekend, setting the stage for the film to dominate the boxoffice in a big way.

The question is how big is big for the movie, which is set in 480 B.C., when Sparta's King Leonidas led 300 of his warriors against the Persian army in the Battle of Thermopylae.

Industry prognosticators caution that the film's upside might be limited somewhat by its R rating. But the film, based on Frank Miller's graphic novel, already has received adoring praise on the Web, and Warners marketers have been exploiting online media to the fullest, launching an aggressive MySpace presence along with an official site chock full of video journals, a production blog and concept art.

Already lauded for its advances in special effects, "300," starring Gerard Butler, could challenge some records, at least for March openings; it's likely that the film will garner the title of second- or third-highest opening ever for the month. "Ice Age: The Meltdown" holds the record with $68 million, set last March,

while the original "Ice Age" has the No. 2 slot with $46 million in 2002.

"300," while tracking in the $40 million range, should go higher for its opening and likely will fall between the two "Ice Age" numbers. On Thursday, midnight shows almost completely sold out in advance, and the film also is bowing on Imax screens, so "300" is on track to earn some big coin.

Audiences appear to be coming back to the movies, as demonstrated by last weekend's surprising debut of "Wild Hogs" to $39.6 million. It's likely that the PG-13 road-trip comedy will drop a good 50% for the frame, but with such a surprising opening behind it, grossing about $19 million in its second week still would thrill everyone at distributor Buena Vista Pictures.

Everything else bowing this weekend is in limited release.

Fox Searchlight opens Mira Nair's "The Namesake" in six theaters today. The PG-13 adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri's best-selling novel stars Kal Penn as an American-born son of Indian immigrants who struggles to fit in among his fellow New Yorkers as he deals with his traditional family. The film, co-starring Irfan Khan, Tabu and Jacinda Barrett, was scheduled to bow in October, but Searchlight pushed it back.

The Bigger Picture bows Fox Faith's "The Ultimate Gift," based on the popular book, in 816 theaters. Starring James Garner, Drew Fuller and Abigail Breslin and directed by Michael O. Sajbel ("One Night With the King"), the film centers on a man (Fuller) who must take on a series of tasks set up by his recently deceased grandfather that puts him on the road to self-discovery.

Magnolia Pictures unveils two limited releases today. The Korean horror film "The Host," from director Bong Joon-ho, is South Korea's most successful domestic release. Rogue Pictures already has scored the rights to remake the film, about the creation of a mutant beast living in Seoul's Han river. The R-rated film will bow in 74 theaters.

The distributor also bows James D. Scurlock's documentary "Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders." Centering on America's dependence on personal credit, it opens in six theaters.

IFC Films opens "Believe in Me," a feel-good sports drama about a small-town basketball coach who is forced to coach the girls' team, in 54 theaters.
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