Weekend Box Office (March 9 - 11, 2007)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND 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 $70.9M opening weekend, according to final studio figures, 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 $22,844 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.

300 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 $28.1M on Friday (including midnight shows from Thursday night), dropped an understandable 12% to $24.7M on Saturday, and slipped only 27% to $18.1M on Sunday.

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 fifth biggest debut in history following Spider-Man ($114.8M), Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone ($90.3M), Passion, and The Da Vinci Code ($77.1M). 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 $6.5M from just 337 prints for a $19,288 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 31% in its second weekend to $27.6M giving the studio a fantastic $77M 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 $98.5M in grosses accounting for a whopping 73% of all cash spent on the top ten films. Overall, the top ten posted its second best performance of 2007 with $135.7M 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 that were separated by less than $150,000. Third place went to Disney's Bridge to Terabithia which grossed $6.8M, down only 24%, for a $66.9M cume. Also in its fourth weekend, Sony's Ghost Rider fell 42% to $6.7M raising the total to $104M 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 $6.6M, down a disturbing 50%, for a ten-day tally of $23.6M. 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. The Eddie Murphy comedy Norbit shed one third of its audience grossing $4.3M and lifted its total to $88.3M for Paramount. Jim Carrey's psychological thriller The Number 23 dipped 37% to $4.1M and upped its cume to a less impressive $30.2M for New Line.

Music and Lyrics, the romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore, followed with $3.7M. Off only 24%, the Warner Bros. title has taken in $43.8M to date. Universal's thriller Breach collected $2.5M, down 31%, for a $29M sum. The slave trade drama Amazing Grace rounded out the top ten with $2.5M. Distributors Samuel Goldwyn and Roadside Attractions added over 200 theaters and enjoyed the smallest dip in the top ten sliding just 12%. 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 $248,552 from only six locations for a muscular per-theater average of $41,425. 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 positive.

Also opening in limited release was the Korean monster movie The Host with $314,488 from 71 theaters for a mild $4,429 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 $1.2M from 816 sites for a poor $1,520 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 $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 $1.4M. With $19.1M in 17 days, look for a finish just north of $20M.

The top ten films grossed $135.7M (a new March record) which was up a stunning 48% 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.

For NEW reviews of 300 and The Host visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Premonition, I Think I Love My Wife, and Dead Silence all open.

Marketplace: Shop for videos, DVDs, music, books, and posters at discounted prices using search engines

# Title Mar 9 - 11 Mar 2 - 4 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 300 $ 70,885,301 3,103 1 $ 22,844 $ 70,885,301 Warner Bros.
2 Wild Hogs 27,601,291 39,699,023 -30.5 3,296 2 8,374 77,016,616 Buena Vista
3 Bridge to Terabithia 6,779,315 8,904,512 -23.9 3,210 4 2,112 66,934,360 Buena Vista
4 Ghost Rider 6,670,463 11,553,469 -42.3 3,347 4 1,993 104,012,146 Sony
5 Zodiac 6,641,870 13,395,610 -50.4 2,379 2 2,792 23,595,973 Paramount
6 Norbit 4,278,099 6,398,696 -33.1 2,505 5 1,708 88,295,349 Paramount
7 The Number 23 4,082,292 6,486,304 -37.1 2,489 3 1,640 30,233,459 New Line
8 Music and Lyrics 3,744,084 4,888,337 -23.4 2,280 4 1,642 43,761,368 Warner Bros.
9 Breach 2,505,640 3,617,670 -30.7 1,505 4 1,665 29,021,080 Universal
10 Amazing Grace 2,478,036 2,826,987 -12.3 1,000 3 2,478 11,392,034 Goldwyn / Roadside
11 Black Snake Moan 1,884,690 4,143,199 -54.5 1,253 2 1,504 7,294,743 Par. Vantage
12 Reno 911!: Miami 1,400,035 3,942,926 -64.5 1,745 3 802 19,129,868 Fox
13 The Ultimate Gift 1,241,079 816 1 1,521 1,241,079 Fox Faith
14 Daddy's Little Girls 1,229,553 2,275,340 -46.0 798 4 1,541 30,121,004 Lionsgate
15 The Astronaut Farmer 1,015,921 2,212,155 -54.1 1,450 3 701 9,354,438 Warner Bros.
16 Night at the Museum 922,474 1,455,768 -36.6 739 12 1,248 244,766,562 Fox
17 The Lives of Others 852,558 781,095 9.1 163 5 5,230 3,460,248 Sony Classics
18 Pan's Labyrinth 780,957 1,194,796 -34.6 549 11 1,423 35,407,181 Picturehouse
19 Because I Said So 712,545 1,334,505 -46.6 709 7 1,005 41,615,740 Universal
20 The Last King of Scotland 656,921 961,122 -31.7 490 24 1,341 16,262,830 Fox Searchlight
Top 5 $ 118,578,240 $ 80,038,918 48.2
Top 10 135,666,391 103,029,746 31.7
Top 20 146,363,124 117,691,293 24.4
Top 20 vs. 2006 146,363,124 102,500,972 42.8

Last Updated : March 12, 2007 at 5:45PM ET

Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Friday at 9:50am ET.