i>300 IS HOT

It seemed like summer at the box office over the weekend. Not only did some areas of the West experience a heat wave and temperatures in the East surge to their warmest levels of the year, but kids packed movie theaters as if mid-year recess were in full swing. The comic book-like 300 took in an estimated $70 million, a record for a March opening. Analysts had expected a huge opening -- somewhere in the neighborhood of $45 million -- but none had predicted an opening that big. The film had a reported budget of $60 million. The results were all the more surprising since the film had an R rating. (It had also received decidedly mixed reviews from critics.) The rating appeared to have been largely ignored by Warner Bros. marketing executives who heavily hyped the film on youth-skewing MySpace.com. And in an interview with today's (Monday) Daily Variety, Greg Foster, chairman and president of IMAX, conceded, "We've been cultivating the techie crowd of 15- to 24-year-olds who play videogames and watch DVDs. ... It's a [demographic] that's difficult to get, but we finally nailed them." The film earned $3,380,000 on just 62 IMAX screens, or $54,500 per screen. Despite the fact that other films turned in rather unspectacular performances (Fox Faith's The Ultimate Gift, the only other film to open in wide release, tanked with just $1.3 million), 300 pushed the box office up some 50 percent from the comparable week a year ago. It also pushed overall ticket sales for the year up 4 percent. (They had been down about 1 percent as of last week.)

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Media by Numbers:

1. 300, $70 million; 2. Wild Hogs, $28 million; 3. Bridge to Terabithia, $6.9 million; 4. Ghost Rider, $6.8 million; 5. Zodiac, $6.77 million; 6. The Number 23, $4.33 million; 7. Norbit, $4.3 million; 8. Music and Lyrics, $3.8 million; 9. Breach, $2.6 million; 10. Amazing Grace, $2.5 million.

NATO PRESIDENT INVEIGHS AGAINST NARROW WINDOW

The president of the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) has expressed alarm over a new study indicating that the window between the time a movie is released to theaters and the time it is released on DVD shrank by an average of 10 days in 2006. "The pace of the shrinkage is of concern to us," John Fithian told today's (Monday) Los Angeles Times. "Ten days in one year is a lot." The study found that blockbuster movies took longer to arrive in the video stores than those that had short theatrical runs. Sony Film's distribution chief Jeff Blake told the Times that the studio, which previously was the quickest to release DVDs of its movies, altered its policy last year. "You absolutely want to protect that theatrical window for any movie that's still in theaters," Blake said.

STUDY SAYS MORE DOWNLOADERS WOULD PAY IF PRICE WERE CHEAPER

A study by market researchers Advanis has disclosed that only 21 percent of consumers who download movies regularly do so legally but that the percentage could be increased if the legal downloading services charged less. It also estimated that online piracy costs the movie industry $598 million annually. (The industry's own estimate puts that figure at five times that amount.) In a statement, Phil Dwyer, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Advanis, said that the industry "can spend its time and resources pursuing the pirates, and attempting to get them to change their ways, or it can put those same resources into accelerating the adoption of these services by the early mainstream consumers, who are more inclined to behave legally." The study suggested that the average consumer would be willing to pay nor more than $2.59 to download a movie online.

Brian B.