Bloody '300' Makes an Epic $70 Million

Category: 300 News | Posted by: maryp
Article Date: March 12, 2007 | Publication: The New York Times | Author: Michael Cieply
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Surprise! Spartans Assault the Box Office


LOS ANGELES (March 11) - Even a film business that expects big numbers is likely to be double-checking the box-office receipts for Warner Brothers 300 on Monday and asking, "What just happened?"

The sword-and-sandals epic posted an estimated $70 million in ticket sales Friday through Sunday as it surged past hostile critics and industry expectations to become the fourth surprise hit in a winter season that began with a limp.

"We had projected it coming in around the mid-30s," said Dan Fellman, Warners president of theatrical distribution, referring to the $30 million mark. "Its staggering."

The movie defied the odds in that it had no star bigger than the Scottish actor Gerard Butler (The Phantom of the Opera), Mr. Fellman said, it was made by the relatively untested director Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead) and it carried the added handicap of an R rating.

The opening of 300 was the third largest for an R-rated film, behind The Matrix Reloaded, which posted about $91.8 million in ticket sales on its first weekend in 2003, and The Passion of the Christ, which opened to about $84 million a year later.

When the final tallies are in on Monday, Mr. Fellman said, Hollywoods overall box office for the year will have moved comfortably ahead of last years pace after running slightly better than even through last week, mostly thanks to a series of recent films that, by conventional wisdom, were not supposed to be hits.

Disney's Wild Hogs, a comedy that put stars as long in the tooth as John Travolta and Tim Allen on motorcycles, opened to nearly $40 million in ticket sales a week ago and picked up $28 million more this weekend, for a total of more than $77 million. Two weeks before that, Ghost Rider, with Nicolas Cage , surprised its distributors at Sony Pictures Entertainment with a $45 million weekend, and then went on to take in total domestic receipts of about $104 million through Sunday.

Much the same happened with Norbit, a critically derided comedy in which Eddie Murphy played fat and female. That film took in $34 million on its first weekend in early February for DreamWorks and Paramount, on its way to about $88 million as of Sunday.

"Lines beget lines," as viewers of one hit are exposed to trailers for the next, Chuck Viane, president of domestic distribution for Disneys Buena Vista unit, said.

During a telephone news conference on Tuesday, Dan Glickman, chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, cautiously predicted that eagerly awaited sequels coming later this year  Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End, Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix  would push the 2007 United States box-office total beyond last years $9.49 billion, which in turn was up 5.5 percent from 2005.

But surprises like 300 can be even more lucrative than sequels. Part of the reason is lower budgets; Mr. Fellman placed the production cost of 300 at about $64 million, compared with $150 million or more for other blockbusters. Newly minted successes also tend to haul in proportionally more money from DVD sales and other aftermarkets (pay-television and airplane sales, for example) than do follow-up films.

Critics were divided on the merits of Mr. Snyders adaptation of Frank Miller and Lynn Varleys graphic novel about the Spartans stand against the Persians at Thermopylae, which A. O. Scotts review in The New York Times described as "about as violent as Apocalypto and twice as stupid." (An admiring Richard Roeper, of The Chicago Sun-Times, called it "gorgeous to behold.") Still, ticket buyers were lining up for showings that sold out on various electronic services.


Momentum had been building among fans since the film was introduced at last years Comic-Con International comic book and popular arts convention. It received a boost about a month ago when a trailer  highlighting the movies stylized, computer-assisted visual approach  caught fire on MySpace. Mr. Snyder and his collaborators also helped broaden the films appeal among women by expanding a subplot, about the Spartan queen Gorgo.

300 has been Hollywoods best March opening, not adjusted for inflation, passing the $68 million mark posted by Ice Age: The Meltdown, when it opened on March 31 last year and its weekend sales spilled into April. As such, it vindicated Mr. Snyder, who fought to adapt the graphic novel despite initial resistance at Warner, which had a tougher time in 2004 with the ancient epics Troy and Alexander.

"That's the magic of our industry," Mr. Fellman said. "Every once in a while these special moments happen."


Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company