'World's' greatest gate

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With an unprecedented 29,000-screen global day-and-date release, Buena Vista Pictures' "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" scaled new heights at the boxoffice, where the third film in the franchise plundered a record $401 million worldwide in it first six days of release.

In North America, where three A-list tentpole sequels opened in more than 4,000 theaters apiece during the past four weeks, it's not surprising that the four-day Memorial Day session will enter the record books as the biggest weekend in domestic boxoffice history.

Thanks largely to the stellar opening of "At World's End" as well as the outstanding holds of Paramount Pictures' "Shrek the Third" ($69.1 million) and Sony Pictures' "Spider-Man 3" ($18 million), the total domestic boxoffice for all films for the weekend is tracking to land in the vicinity of $265 million, easily besting the 2001 five-day New Year's Day frame, the reigning champ with $249.3 million.

The next biggest-grossing weekend of all time was the 2004 Memorial Day frame, with $247.6 million.

"At World's End" set sail at the domestic boxoffice with an estimate of a dazzling $142.1 million from a record 4,362 venues during the four-day holiday frame, marking the second-biggest opening weekend of all time behind the $151.1 million take of "Spider-Man 3." Including Thursday night previews that generated $14 million, the PG-13 "At World's End" has tallied about $156.1 million domestically so far.

The staggering global haul of "At World's End," meanwhile, topped the recent $382 million six-day worldwide opening of "Spider-Man 3."

The Johnny Depp starrer, helmed by Gore Verbinski and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, can claim the biggest opening for a Memorial Day weekend, topping 20th Century Fox's "X-Men: The Last Stand," which took in $122.9 million last year.

"I think it's a testament to the first two films being so beloved, which gave the public the reason to choose us during an extremely competitive weekend," Buena Vista Pictures Distribution president Chuck Viane said."We are thrilled by being able to take the holiday weekend to launch the movie to record levels — it was the target we were aiming at."

On another historical note, the debuts of "At World's End," "Shrek the Third" and "Spider-Man 3" mark the first time that three films generated opening weekends of more than $100 million apiece in one year.

"Shrek the Third," from DreamWorks Animation, was at 4,172 locations and occupied the second spot overall for its sophomore session, with the gross from the first three days of the holiday weekend dipping 56% from its debut — a relatively moderate drop considering the weekend's competitive setting. The animated comedy has gleaned a sterling $219.4 million in its first 11 days.

"Spider-Man 3" was in the third slot on its fourth weekend in theaters, suffering a 51% hit from the previous frame as its theater count slipped below 4,000 for the first time. The Sam Raimi-helmed film crossed the $300 million mark Sunday as its cume to date grew to a hefty $307.6 million. The worldwide gross for the latest "Spider-Man" installment is about $800 million.

Tentpoles weren't the only films in the marketplace during the weekend.

Lionsgate's "Bug" opened in the fourth slot overall after infesting 1,661 locations in its debut, with the William Friedkin-helmed thriller achieving a lukewarm gross of an estimated $4.2 million. The R-rated picture, starring Ashley Judd, Harry Connick Jr., Lynn Collins and Michael Shannon, is based on a current off-Broadway play by Tracy Letts.

Fox Searchlight's "Waitress" had a strong showing in the fifth slot, taking in an estimated $4 million in its fourth weekend. Continuing its platform release pattern, the comedy was in 501 locations — up 394 from a week earlier — and averaged a stout $7,843 per theater. The comedy, starring Keri Russell, Cheryl Hines, Jeremy Sisto and Nathan Fillion, has picked up about $6.5 million to date.

In limited release, Sony Pictures Classics had two films debut. The R-rated "Paprika" had the better bow of the pair with a four-day gross of an estimated $45,594 from two theaters. Satoshi Kon directed the animated, Japanese-language sci-fi drama, which centers on the theft of a machine that allows therapists to enter patients' dreams.

SPC's "Angel-A" debuted in seven locales and grossed an estimated $37,730. Helmed by Luc Besson, the R-rated comedy drama, about an angel sent to rescue a man from himself, averaged $5,390 per theater.

Miramax Films' "The Golden Door" opened in two theaters in New York and brought in an estimated $37,000 for the weekend. Emanuele Crialese wrote and directed the award-winning drama from Italy about an immigrant family from Sicily coming to the U.S. through Ellis Island. The per-theater average for the PG-13 film was a robust $18,500.

Heading into the weekend, some observers thought "At World's End" could break more records than it did. The film could have had a bigger gross if the Thursday previews were not in the mix because early previews tend to take some of the heat off weekend numbers. Also, because of the film's running time of two hours and 48 minutes, the number of primetime shows (those between 7-9 p.m.) were limited compared with shorter films.

"We were not concerned with breaking every record at the boxoffice," Viane said. "Our primary intent was to maximize the number of people that would have an opportunity to see the movie over the weekend, which is why we had previews on Thursday night."

As for "Shrek's" second weekend in theaters, DreamWorks Animation head of marketing Anne Globe called it another great weekend and said she was "looking forward to an ever more favorable landscape going forward," when more schools let out for summer break.

"More kids getting out of school means an increased availability of the potential audience for our film," she said.

The total boxoffice for the weekend's top 12 films was $250.2 million, up nearly 8% from the four-day Memorial Day holiday frame last year.

For the week ending Thursday, the national boxoffice was up nearly 12% from the comparable seven-day period in 2006 ($252.3 million vs. $225.6 million), helping maintain a 7% gain in year-to-date cume ($3.40 billion vs. $3.18 billion). Estimated admissions are up 1%.
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