Joel Siegel's Weekend Wrap: 'The Morning After'

When I interview actors or directors who have a movie out -- and that's most of the time because they don't talk to me otherwise -- one of the questions I ask is "What do you want people to take away with them when they see your film?"

I asked "300" director Zack Snyder. His answer: "I just want people to have fun at the movies."

Well, I did. I saw it on Imax -- highly recommended. It's not 3-D, but watching it on a 60-foot screen made me feel like a kid at the movies all over again. And, obviously, I wasn't the only one.

"300," adapted from Frank Miller's graphic novel, broke a box office record for the biggest March opening ever, the third-biggest R-rated opening ever (behind "Matrix 2" and "Passion of the Christ").

It carried the weekend box office to a March record, set an Imax opening-weekend record, and sold $70 million worth of tickets. Nothing Spartan about that.

Another record they've really got to love at Warner Bros.: "300" is one of the rare films that took in more money on its opening weekend than the movie cost to make.

I have a couple of questions: Are Miller's graphic novels that popular? Do that many people know his work?

Moviegoers can't know Snyder's work. This was his second feature; the remake of George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" was his first. So where did all this word-of-mouth anticipation Hollywood calls "advance tracking" come from?

The totals were a surprise, but Hollywood knew it would be No. 1 because no other studio opened a major film against it.

It should do even better overseas. "Troy" and "Alexander" both did much better overseas than they did here.

"Wild Hogs" came in second, dropping only 35 percent. It could end up doing $150 million overall. "Ghost Rider" broke the $100 million mark.

Kids are going to the movies in March, which had been a dead month at the box office. But, in fewer numbers, as is always the case, so are grown-ups.

"The Lives of Others," the German-language Oscar winner and a just plain great movie, dropped only 8 percent from its opening weekend, and "The Namesake," from Indian-American director Mira Nair, averaged more than $40,000 per theater.

Rules of thumb: Anything less than a 50 percent drop is fine by Hollywood standards where a $10,000-per-theater average is heaven. "300" averaged more than $22,000 per theater. It opened in 3,100 theaters. "Namesake" opened in just six.

"The Namesake," shot in Calcutta and New York, adapted from the best-selling novel about immigrant parents and their American-born son, really resonated with me. My mother was born in Poland, and I grew up in a home where English was sometimes the first language, sometimes the second. The immigrant experience, whether your people came from Calcutta, Naples or Pinsk, is truly universal.

The movie was beautifully made. It's a powerful story and has a wonderful cast (two Indian stars, just fine actors, and Jersey-born Kal Penn of "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle," of all things, will soon be able to afford to go to 21 -- he's that good).

The Namesake: B+ 300: A-

"Black Snake Moan," a much better film than its Mandingo advertising campaign would lead you to believe, dropped 55 percent and will end up grossing about $10 million. Maybe Sam Jackson just shouldn't make any movies with the word "Snake" in the title.

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