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'Dawn's' lively arrival

March 22, 2004|R. Kinsey Lowe | Times Staff Writer

As U.S. moviegoers' fervor for "The Passion of the Christ" subsided and cheeky zombie movie remake "Dawn of the Dead" took over the top spot at the box office, Mel Gibson's interpretation of the final hours of Jesus took largely Roman Catholic Latin America by storm.

In the U.S., "Dawn of the Dead" awakened atop the box office with an estimated $27.3 million, Universal Pictures said Sunday. The remake of George A. Romero's classic cult horror film in which humans seek refuge from rampaging zombies attracted an ethnically diverse audience that was mostly under 25 and 57% male.

The film did about as well in its first weekend as another remake of a horror classic, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," which grossed $28 million in its opening weekend last October.

"The Passion" grossed about $19.2 million in its fourth weekend, sustaining an acceptable 40% drop from the prior weekend. Gibson's company, Icon Productions, and the movie's U.S. distributor, Newmarket Films, have said they expect business to surge over Easter weekend, April 9 through 11, with many church groups again turning out in large numbers to see it. The film has taken in about $295.3 million in the U.S.

Year to date, "The Passion" has propelled U.S. box office for all films to about $1.74 billion, compared with last year's cumulative $1.64 billion at this time, said Dan Marks of box office tracking firm Nielsen EDI. That's an increase of about 6%.

In the Latin American markets where it opened, "The Passion" took in an estimated $10.2 million, according to figures released Sunday by 20th Century Fox International, bringing its international total to more than $25 million. The film has opened in Australia, New Zealand, Poland and Greece, among other countries, and by Easter it will be playing in most markets except Japan and India. More complete international numbers are expected to be available today.

The largest of the Latin American markets, Mexico, accounted for $5.2 million, a record for the company and second best overall for U.S. films after "Spider-Man," according to Joe Ortiz, executive director of sales administration for Fox International. Admission was restricted to 18 and over in Mexico, where the film was on 950 screens with 560 prints. The actual number of theaters was not available Sunday. In Brazil, the second-largest Latin American market for moviegoing, the film was limited to ages 14 and over and took in an estimated $1.9 million on 472 screens, Ortiz said.

Following the opening weekend of "The Passion" in Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Peru, Trinidad and Jamaica, the movie this week will add the remaining Latin American markets Argentina, Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Back in the United States, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" opened with an estimated $8.6 million. Focus Features took a calculated risk releasing on a moderately wide basis what is literally an arty "head trip" movie about a man played by Jim Carrey who undergoes a process to erase all memory of a relationship that went sour. The film, which also stars Kate Winslet as Carrey's ex-girlfriend, was directed by Michel Gondry and written by Charlie Kaufman.

"Eternal Sunshine" posted a relatively solid average of $6,334 per theater, and Jack Foley, president of theatrical distribution for Focus, reported sellouts in college towns ranging from Madison, Wis., to Gainesville, Fla., to Austin, Texas. Foley suggested the sellouts and mostly positive exit polls bode well for the film's long-term prospects.

Rather than rolling out the movie slowly, Foley said the company decided to risk a wider-than-usual opening that would include some smaller markets, where the film succeeded largely because of Carrey.

The audience was mostly between 17 and 35, with slightly more females than males, Foley said, and half those polled in exit surveys said the film was worth seeing a second time.

The latest Angelina Jolie movie, "Taking Lives," opened at No. 3 with an estimated $11.4 million. While not a total bomb, it does represent another disappointing turn for the Oscar-winning actress after "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" and "Beyond Borders." Among movies in limited release, Sony Pictures Classics posted an impressive $30,992 for a single New York theater for "Bon Voyage." The new film from French director Jean-Paul Rappeneau opens this weekend in Los Angeles.

Warner Bros.' "NASCAR: The Imax Experience" continues to do well in the Imax universe, grossing $1.3 million and an impressive $19,779 per theater in 68 locations.



Box Office

Preliminary results based on studio projections.

*--* Movie 3-day gross Total (millions)


*--* Dawn of the Dead $27.3 $27.3

The Passion of the Christ $19.2 $295.3

Taking Lives $11.4 $11.4

Starsky & Hutch $10.7 $67.7

Secret Window $9.6 $33.1

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind $8.6 $8.6

Hidalgo $8.5 $48.5

Agent Cody Banks 2 $6 $17.3

50 First Dates $4.3 $113.1

Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen $1.5 $27.6


Source: Nielsen EDI Inc.

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