Zack Snyder's film adaptation of Frank Miller's 300 graphic novel annihilated all competition at the weekend box office amassing an estimated total of $70 million, the biggest March opening in history.  300 also registered the third largest 'R-Rated' opening of all time, trailing only Matrix Reloaded ($91.7 million) and The Passion of the Christ ($83.8 million), as well as the fifth best comic book-based debut ever behind just Spider-Man ($114 million), Spider-Man 2 ($88 million), X-Men 3: The Last Stand ($102.5 million), and X-2: X-Men United ($85 million). 


300 scored a smashing per theater average of $22,567 and earned a potent $55,000 average at each of 62 Imax sites.  The historical epic based on the band of 300 Spartans who held off the Persian hordes at the Battle of Thermopylae actually sold more tickets than the other nine films in the top 10 combined.


What does the extraordinary debut of 300 mean?  For one thing it appears that Warner Bros., which stands to make a bundle on the film that cost just $65 million to produce, will do whatever it can to facilitate Snyder's next announced comic book-based project, Watchmen (see 'Warners Snags Zack Snyder')--the probability that lengthy-gestating Watchmen film will actually get made just went up exponentially. 


Zach Snyder's stock is not the only one to benefit from the surprise success of 300, a film without any big name stars -- it is clear that Frank Miller's reputation, both in Hollywood and with the public at large, has never been higher.  Sin City 2 is obviously a lock whenever Miller and co-director Robert Rodriguez want to make it, but Miller's film of Will Eisner's The Spirit should really benefit from the success of 300.  Miller's adaptation of The Spirit is a natural for the green screen technique thanks to Eisner's highly stylized (and stylish) art -- and Miller of course has had lots of experience with the green screen thanks to working with Rodriguez on Sin City.


The probability that Frank Miller's 300 graphic novel will be the best-selling (non-manga) graphic novel of 2007 also jumped substantially.  In just its opening weekend 300 has already earned nearly as much as Sin City and V for Vendetta did in their entire domestic runs -- and the Sin City ($74.5 million) and V for Vendetta ($70.5 million) graphic novels were the best-selling (non-manga) graphic novels of the past two years.


Given Warner Bros.' excellent promotional campaign that enabled 300 to surpass expectations so impressively during its first weekend, the question now becomes how will the film hold up and what will its final domestic box office total be?  Anything below a 60% drop-off during its second weekend should be considered a solid performance and anything under 50%, a major victory. 


Comparing 300 with two other motion picture 'epics' of the ancient world, Troy (2004) and Gladiator (2001) should prove illustrative in noting how modern marketing has increasingly front-loaded the revenue from blockbuster films.  Gladiator earned $34.8 million during its opening weekend averaging $11,851 per theater.  But the film stayed in release for over year (371 days) and its opening represented just 18.6% of its $187.7 million total.  Three years later Troy averaged $13,739 per theater during its opening frame where it earned $46.8 million, 35.1% of its total domestic gross of $133.4 million, which was amassed during a theatrical release of 112 days.


The next few weeks will tell how 300's box office tale will play out, but its strong debut and the potent opening for Ghost Rider demonstrate that there is a major audience that is hungry for action pictures -- and that the vein of comic book based-movies that Hollywood has been mining so successfully since the release of X-Men in 2000 is far from played out.