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''Dawn of the Dead'' is weekend's biggest grosser

”Dawn of the Dead” is weekend’s biggest grosser. Audiences eat up the gory horror — to the tune of 27.3 million bucks

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Sarah Polley, Dawn of the Dead (Movie - 2004)
Dawn of the Dead: Michael Gibson

Long live ”The Dead.” Performing better than expected, ”Dawn of the Dead” turned what was supposed to be a close weekend into a zombie rout, grossing $27.3 million, according to studio estimates.

Most projections were in the low-20 millions, but young male fans turned out in larger numbers than anticipated for the horror remake. Surprisingly strong reviews (including a straight A from EW’s Lisa Schwarzbaum) likely brought in a few more curious moviegoers as well.

”The Dead’s” impressive opening meant that Mel Gibson’s ”The Passion of the Christ” had to settle for the No. 2 spot for the first time since opening at the end of February. The controversial smash slipped 40 percent to $19.2 million, bringing its four-week total to $295.3 million. ”The Passion” now stands as the No. 18 top-grossing film of all time. Within a week it will become only the 18th film to cross the $300 million mark in domestic box office.

Third place went to the new Angelina Jolie thriller ”Taking Lives,” which debuted with $11.4 million, a decent opening, but one that was certainly hurt by the equally freaky ”Dawn of the Dead.” Returning films ”Starsky and Hutch” and ”Secret Window” rounded out the top five with $10.7 million and $9.6 million, respectively.

Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet’s critically praised ”Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” premiered in sixth place with $8.6 million, an impressive figure given the film’s 1,353 theater count (less than half of ”Dawn of the Dead’s” tally). Still, those zombies boasted the highest per-theater average of the top 10, at almost $10,000 per movie house.