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Ancient Epic '300' Wins Another Box Office Battle

The brave Spartan soldiers of "300" enjoyed a one-sided victory at the North American box office for a second weekend, making light work of critically lambasted new challenges from Sandra Bullock and Chris Rock

According to studio estimates issued Sunday, Warner Bros. Pictures' war epic sold $31.2 million worth of tickets in the three days beginning March 16, taking its 10-day haul to $127.4 million.

The movie, which cost about $65 million to make, stars Scottish actor Gerard Butler as the king of the Spartans who leads 300 of his men to a glorious death against the Persians at the Battle of Thermopylae. The Time Warner studio expects the film to hit $200 million.

The film lost about 56% of its audience, a slightly bigger drop than some observers had expected. The studio said bad weather in the northeast hit business.

Bullock recorded the best opening of her career with the psychological thriller "Premonition," which opened at No. 3 with a better-than-expected $18 million.

The actress plays a woman whose husband keeps dying and mysteriously reappearing. The film's distributor, Columbia Pictures, had hoped the $20 million movie would open in the mid-teens. Women comprised two-thirds of the audience, and 61% of viewers were aged 25 and older, said the Sony studio.

'Hogs' Hits Century

Bullock's previous best opener was another chick-flick, "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood," with $16.2 million in June 2002.

Just ahead of "Premonition" was former chart-topper "Wild Hogs" with $18 million in its third week; the total for Walt Disney's John Travolta-Tim Allen road comedy rose to $104 million.

New at No. 4 was the ghost story "Dead Silence" with $7.8 million, in line with the modest expectations of its distributor, Universal Pictures. The action revolves around a homicidal ventriloquist's dummy. Exit polls indicated almost three-quarters of the female-skewing audience was aged under 25, and that viewers were less-than-enthused by the movie, said the General Electric controlled studio. (GE is the parent of CNBC.)

Critics mauled all three new entries, but moviegoers followed their lead only on Rock's romantic comedy-drama "I Think I Love My Wife," which came in at No. 5 with $5.7 million. Rock, who also directed, plays a family man who starts questioning his marriage vows.

The film's distributor, Fox Searchlight, said pre-release forecasts had indicated the movie could earn about $12 million in its first weekend. A spokeswoman for the News Corp. studio was unable to suggest why it failed.

The studio is doing better in the art-house arena with Indian director Mira Nair's cross-cultural romance "The Namesake" which has earned $1 million from just 41 theaters after two weeks.

So far this year, "Wild Hogs," Sony's "Ghost Rider" and "Norbit," have opened at No. 1 despite critical lashings, while "300" fared a bit better but got roasted by some high-profile reviewers.

In a recent editorial, Daily Variety editor-in-chief Peter Bart suggested critics should take a sabbatical until September, when studios release their Oscar bait.

The Nicolas Cage comic-book adaptation "Ghost Rider" (No. 7) and the Eddie Murphy comedy "Norbit" (No. 9) have totaled $110 million after five weeks, and $92 million after six weeks,
respectively. "Ghost Rider" has also earned $87.5 million overseas, Sony said. "Norbit" was released by Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom .

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