Dressed in skinny black jeans and rocker T-shirts, teenagers Raven McGee and Charles Valencia were perusing comic books at a store in Glendale, capping what the two friends considered a perfect Saturday after seeing the superhero blockbuster "Watchmen."
So-called fanboys of the genre, such as McGee and Valencia, helped propel the action film's weekend box-office domination with estimated ticket sales of $55.7 million, the biggest opening of any film this year.
"If you loved the comic book, you'll love the movie," said Valencia, 16, of the film released by Warner Bros. and partners Paramount Pictures and Legendary Pictures.
"We've been anticipating this since way back," said McGee, 16, who watched the movie at a midnight Imax showing in Burbank first before catching it with his friend at the Americana mall in Glendale.
But capturing the imagination of young men and comic book devotees was expected. The film's director, Zack Snyder, has built a dedicated fan base in the wake of 2007's sword-swinging epic "300," which holds the record for a March opening by grossing $70.9 million.
The question now is whether the two-hour, 43-minute "Watchmen" can win over a broader audience in the coming weeks to make the $150-million film as profitable as its studios would like.
"I actually hope so," said Dan Fellman, president of theatrical distribution at Warner Bros. "I'm sure word of mouth will help."
It won't be easy be for a film that already has had to overcome a bitter legal dispute over distribution rights with rival studio 20th Century Fox and has failed to receive the blessing of Alan Moore, author of the graphic novel from which the project was adapted.
Some of the film's momentum may be dulled by high expectations going into the weekend. After outpacing "300" in revenue Friday and impressive advance ticket sales, there was hope "Watchmen" would set a March record for an opening weekend. But by Sunday, it appeared it would fall short.
This was despite an aggressive marketing effort aimed at making the movie a must-see event, scant competition and an uptick in U.S. movie attendance.
"People always have overblown expectations for movies like this," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Media by Numbers. "It did what a movie this long with an R rating should do."
"Watchmen" had the sixth-highest box-office sales on an opening weekend for an R-rated movie, about $36 million behind the leader, "The Matrix Reloaded" in 2003.
"Watchmen" should face little resistance in the near future with no rival blockbusters on the immediate horizon, Dergarabedian said. He expected that continued advertising -- noting the liberal use of the film's smiley face logo -- would help push the film into blockbuster status.
The movie with director Snyder's signature violence and stylized treatment was helped by a strong showing in Imax. "Watchmen" sold out all its 124 Imax midnight shows, grossing $5.5 million, or about 10% of its total receipts. Only "The Dark Knight" has done better in Imax, grossing $6.3 million on 94 screens.
" 'The Dark Knight' was a summer franchise, and for 'Watchmen' to be in the same ballpark is a testament to its fan base," said Greg Foster, president of Imax Filmed Entertainment.
Other top draws for the weekend included "Madea Goes to Jail," which took second place with $8.8 million to bring its box-office total to $76.5 million in three weeks of release. The Lionsgate film had been the previous top weekend opener this year with $41.1 million in receipts.
Rounding out the top five were the Fox thriller "Taken," starring Liam Neeson, in the third spot with $7.5 million in its sixth week; Fox Searchlight's Oscar darling "Slumdog Millionaire," which brought in $6.9 million in its 17th week; and "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," which took in $4.2 million for Sony/Columbia in its eighth week.
Total box-office revenue for the weekend was estimated at $115 million, up about $8 million from the same week a year earlier. But nearly half the total came from one movie, "Watchmen," and from a segment that hadn't been driving ticket sales this year -- young men.
Women such as Crystal Espinosa made up just under a third of the film's audience. Espinosa, 23, persuaded her boyfriend to leave their Echo Park home Saturday and head to the Americana where "Watchman" banners lined the walkways through the outdoor mall.
"It just looked visually appealing," said Espinosa, explaining why she wanted to see the film. "I wanted to see it the first weekend it was out."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
WEEKEND BOX OFFICE
Preliminary results in the U.S. and Canada, based on studio projections:
*--* -- Movie 3-day gross Total Weeks -- (studio) (millions) (millions)
1 Watchmen (Warner Bros.) $55.7 $55.7 1
2 Madea Goes to Jail (Lionsgate) $8.8 $76.5 3
3 Taken (Fox) $7.5 $118 6
4 Slumdog Millionaire $6.9 $125.4 17 (Fox Searchlight)
5 Paul Blart: Mall Cop $4.2 $133.6 8 (Sony/Columbia)
6 He's Just Not That Into You $4 $84.6 5 (Warner Bros.)
7 Coraline (Focus) $3.3 $65.7 5
8 Confessions of a Shopaholic $3.1 $38.4 4 (Disney)
9 Jonas Brothers: The 3-D Concert $2.8 $16.8 2 Experience (Disney)
10 Fired Up (Sony/Screen Gems) $2.6 $13.4 3 *--*
*--* 3-day gross Change Year-to-date gross Change (in millions) from 2008 (in billions) from 2008 $115 +7.6% $1.9 +16.5% *--*
Note: A movie may be shown on more than one screen at each venue.
Source: Media by Numbers
Los Angeles Times