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Bloody fantastic: ''300'' has $70 mil weekend

The graphic-novel adaptation has a stunning debut of $70 mil, breaking all-time records for March and tracking on par with other huge hits

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Gerard Butler, 300
300: Warner Bros. Ent.

Big weekend, box office trackers. BIG weekend. The bloody, R-rated, graphic-novel adaptation 300 earned a shockingly huge $70 million from Friday through Sunday, according to early estimates. In doing so, director Zack Snyder’s stylized take on Frank Miller’s Battle of Thermopylae story easily took No. 1, of course, but it also achieved a number of other distinctions:

· It had the third-best R-rated opening of all time, after The Matrix Reloaded‘s ($91.8 mil) and The Passion of the Christ‘s ($83.8 mil).

· It became the best March debut ever, beating that of last year’s Ice Age: The Meltdown ($68 mil).

· It scored the No. 21 overall premiere in history, on par with blockbusters like — get this — The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Austin Powers in Goldmember, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and Finding Nemo. In other words: huge movies.

· 300‘s CinemaScore grade was a solid A-, from an audience that was 71 percent male (as expected) and evenly split between folks over and under age 25 (another small surprise, considering its strong dose of young-skewing violence and effects).

· In addition, the film broke a number of records on the IMAX screens where it also debuted, including biggest domestic three-day gross ($3.4 mil), biggest opening-day gross ($1.4 mil), and biggest opening-weekend per-screen average ($54,000).

In less bullet-worthy news, 300 averaged a hefty $22,567 in the 3,103 regular theaters where it played, and it gave Warner Bros. its sixth-best bow ever. Moreover, and perhaps sweetest of all for some, it gave the studio (which is part of EW.com’s parent company, Time Warner) a much-needed smash hit after a weak 2006 filled with disasters like Poseidon and disappointments like Lady in the Water.

The success of 300 also brought to light a phenomenon that we don’t usually see in the spring: That when a movie performs so incredibly well, it juices the entire box office. To wit, no film in the entire top 10 dropped more than 49 percent. Very impressive. Thus, last weekend’s surprise champ, Wild Hogs (No. 2), declined a mere 29 percent to earn a much-better-than-expected $28 mil and bring its two-week cumulative gross to $77.4 mil. With an additional $6.9 mil in the bank, Bridge to Terabithia (No. 3) edged out Ghost Rider (No. 4, with $6.8 mil) and Zodiac (No. 5, with $6.8 mil). In fact, the only real disappointment was the weekend’s other major release, the inspirational flick The Ultimate Gift, which brought in just $1.2 mil in 816 locations.

A couple other movies met some milestones as well: Ghost Rider became the first $100 mil grosser of 2007 (it has made $104.1 mil so far), and, says Brandon at Nielsen EDI, Night at the Museum (remember that movie?) brought its overall domestic take to $244.8 mil, thus passing Cars as the No. 2 release from 2006. So, certainly it should come as no surprise that overall receipts were way up, more than 36 percent above the same weekend last year, according to Paul at Media by Numbers. And do stay tuned, friends, to EW.com and Entertainment Weekly magazine, for more on this jaw-dropping turn of events at the box office.