U’s ‘Dead’ reckoning

With $27 mil bow, zombie remake topples 'Christ'

This article was updated at 3:05 p.m.

Universal’s remake of zombie classic “Dawn of the Dead” had a lively bow, digging up an estimated $27.3 million to top the weekend box office.

Previous B.O. kingpin “The Passion of the Christ” was resigned to second place after three consecutive weekends at No. 1. But the Newmarket-distribbed Crucifixion drama grossed $19.2 million in the latest session to boost its cume to $295.3 million and reach a new high for an R-rated pic.

Warner Bros.’ Angelina Jolie suspenser “Taking Lives” debuted with $11.4 million, completing frame’s R-rated trifecta. And Focus Features’ “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” a Charlie Kaufman-penned drama starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, bowed in sixth place with $8.6 million.

A pair of soph-session pics also clung to top-10 rankings. Sony’s Johnny Depp suspenser “Secret Window” finished fifth with $9.6 million on a 47% drop from its opening gross, while MGM’s family actioner “Agent Cody Banks: Destination London” dipped 25% to fetch $6 million in eighth place.

Industrywide, the weekend repped a 27% uptick from the same frame a year ago, with $124 million in total estimated grosses, according to B.O. tracker Nielsen EDI.

Year-to-date, 2004 is almost 6% ahead of the same portion of last year at $1.74 billion.

In a limited bow this weekend, IFC Films’ Colin Farrell starrer “Intermission” grossed an estimated $40,010 from 10 theaters in Gotham, L.A. and Boston. That repped an acceptable per-venue average of $4,001, with drama set to expand to 18 locations in eight markets Friday.

Also, Sony Pictures Classics’ “Bon Voyage” — a French wartime laffer starring Gerard Depardieu — rung up $30,992 in a notable Gotham exclu.

‘NASCAR’ in overdrive

Elsewhere in the specialty market, Warners’ large-format racing doc “NASCAR: The Imax Experience” maintained 68 playdates and grossed $1.3 million, or an impressive $19,779 per engagement, with a $3.4 million cume.

Sony Classics added 13 runs for its drama “Monsieur Ibrahim” and grossed $218,223, or $3,357 per site, with a $965,046 cume.

And distrib boosted laffer “Good Bye, Lenin!” by 27 theaters for a total 43 to gross $244,044, or $5,675 per venue, with a $639,673 cume.

“Dawn of the Dead” — a Zack Snyder-helmed remake of the 1978 cult fave — delivered its B.O.-snatching perf despite marking an 11% Saturday-over-Friday downtick. U distribution prexy Nikki Rocco noted horror pics tend to be well supported on Fridays, but she acknowledged having figured on at least a flat Saturday gross.

Some 63% of “Dawn” auds were under age 25, with 57% of patrons male. Hispanic moviegoers comprised 21% of its supporters and African-Americans 14%.

“Dawn” broke bigger than had been projected, though producer Marc Abraham chuckled over studios’ traditionally cautious approach to forecasting weekend perfs.

“Everybody plays it a little conservative, because you don’t want to get your heart broken,” Abraham said.

Cume for “The Passion” now has surpassed last year’s “The Matrix Reloaded,” which had been the top restricted-auds release with $281.6 million in total domestic B.O.

Nearing $300 mil mark

“Passion,” which passed “Reloaded” on Saturday, is expected to reach the rarefied $300 million mark by Thursday.

Auds for “Taking Lives” 59% comprised moviegoers 25 or older, suggesting pic could display the sturdy legs of adult-oriented releases, said Dan Fellman, head of domestic distribution at Warners.

“This won’t be a one-weekend movie,” he said.

Femmes repped 58% of the patrons for “Lives,” the first feature from director D.J. Caruso since 2002’s “The Salton Sea.”

Focus distribution topper Jack Foley said he was “ecstatic” that “Eternal Sunshine” sold out in many venues and played well even in smaller markets. With “Sunshine” playing in 1,353 theaters, Focus is counting on positive word of mouth for the well-reviewed drama and always figured pic’s brightest prospects lie in the longer haul.

Looking to next weekend, four pics open wide. Disney unspools the Coen brothers’ Tom Hanks starrer “The Ladykillers,” Warner Bros. bows sequel laffer “Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed,” Miramax releases Kevin Smith’s Ben Affleck-Liv Tyler romancer “Jersey Girl” and Fox Searchlight debuts urban drama “Never Die Alone.”