Box Office: '300: Rise of an Empire' Tops Friday With $17.7 Million; 'Peabody' No. 2

8:09 AM PST 03/08/2014 by Pamela McClintock

UPDATED: "Mr. Peabody & Sherman," facing competition from "The Lego Movie," takes in $8 million; "12 Years a Slave" enjoys bump after its Oscar best picture win, while Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel" opens strong.

Warner Bros. and Legendary's 300: Rise of an Empire easily topped the North American box office with $17.7 million, putting the ancient epic on course for a solid $42 million-plus debut.

That's notably less than the record-breaking $70.9 million domestic debut of the first 300 on the same weekend in 2007, but it's still a promising start, considering changes in the marketplace in the intervening years (namely, the flight of male moviegoers) and the fact that Zack Snyder didn't direct the sequel.

Producers Gianni Nunnari and Mark Canton reteamed to make Rise of an Empire alongside Snyder, Deborah Snyder and Bernie Goldmann. Warners and Legendary co-financed the $110 million sequel, which earned a B CinemaScore.

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While it is trailing 300 domestically, Rise of an Empire is pacing 9 percent ahead of the original film internationally, taking in $32.8 million in its first three days.

Directed by Noam Murro this time out, Rise of an Empire stars Sullivan Stapleton and Eva Green and is set during the second Persian invasion of Greece. Stapleton, who plays a Greek general, hasn't been available to do prerelease press for Rise of an Empire because of an accident in which he suffered a concussion, forcing his new Cinemax primetime drama Strike Back to go on hiatus.

Snyder's 300, earning $456.1 million worldwide, was considered groundbreaking for its visual effects and greenscreen work. However, a sequel was considered out of the question since most of the characters died, including the main character, played by Gerard Butler. But Frank Miller, who wrote the graphic novel upon which the first 300 was based, revealed that he was writing a follow-up that Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad would adapt for the big screen.

Warners still hadn't given the go-ahead to make Rise of an Empire when Snyder was offered a job directing the studio's Superman reboot Man of Steel. Snyder informed Canton and Nunnari that he would not be able to direct the 300 sequel but would remain a producer.

DreamWorks Animation and 20th Century Fox's 3D animated event pic Mr. Peabody & Sherman also opened on Friday, grossing $8 million to come in No. 2. The time-travel adventure, facing competition from holdover The Lego Movie, is expected to gross $31.5 million for the weekend.

Peabody, earning an A CinemaScore, is based on the characters from Peabody's Improbable History, a segment airing on the hit 1960s television series The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. The film's star is a genius talking dog who cares for a human boy.

Directed by Rob Minkoff (The Lion King), Peabody cost $145 million to make and has already earned $40 million in select markets overseas where it rolled out early. The voice cast is led by Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter, Allison Janney, Stephen Colbert, Stephen Tobolowsky, Mel Brooks, Leslie Mann and Stanley Tucci.

Alex Schwartz and Denise Nolan Cascino produced Peabody.

Among holdovers, Non-Stop grossed $4.7 million on its second Friday to come in No. 4, followed by Lego Movie with $2.5 million. Non-Stop is expected to earn $15.1 million for the weekend, putting its domestic total at $51.9 million. Lego Movie, expected to earn $16 million-plus for the weekend, will end Sunday with a domestic total of $216.5 million.

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Christian film Son of God, placing No. 7, is seeing a steep decline in its second weekend, falling 71 percent on Friday to $2.7 million. Through Sunday, the film's domestic total will be $41.2 million.

Elsewhere, Oscar best picture winner 12 Years a Slave enjoyed a nice bump following its victory at the Academy Awards ceremony. Upping its theater count from roughly 400 locations to 1,065, the slavery drama placed No. 9 Friday with $585,000. 12 Years is expected to earn $2.3 million for the weekend, a 131 percent gain, pushing its domestic total to $53.2 million.

Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel is making headlines at the specialty box office, where it is expected to take in $800,000 for the weekend from four theaters in Los Angeles and New York. That would put the film's location average at a whopping $200,000 (Fox Searchlight is releasing both Grand Budapest and 12 Years).

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