StrikeEntertainment's zombie remake Dawn Of The Dead roared into life at the weekend as itopened number one for Universal Pictures on an estimated $27.3m, knocking ThePassion Of The Christfrom its top berth as that picture closed in on $300m in its fourth week.
Elsewhere WarnerBros serial killer thriller Taking Lives opened third on $11.4m while Focus Features' brainteaser ofa romantic comedy Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind opened sixth on $8.6m.
In Zack Snyder's$26m remake of Dawn Of The Dead, based on George A Romero's classic 1978 horror picture, a groupof survivors from a global virus take refuge in a shopping mall and must defendthemselves against an army of infected humans.
Ving Rhames,Sarah Polley and Jake Weber star in the picture, which averaged $9,945 from2,745 venues amid generally good reviews.
The PassionOf The Christ, whichopened to spectacular success in Latin America this weekend through FoxInternational, slipped one place to second on $19.2m for $295.3m.
This is thefirst weekend Passionhas not ranked number one at the box office since its Ash Wednesday release,however it has a strong shot of returning to the top over the Easter weekend ofApr 9-11.
Taking Lives cost around $40m to make and starsAngelina Jolie as an FBI profiler hunting a serial killer who has remained atlarge for two decades.
Ethan Hawke andKiefer Sutherland also star in DJ Caruso's picture, which averaged $4,218 from2,705 sites and was on the receiving end of some poor reviews.
Based on aCharlie Kaufman screenplay and directed by Michael Gondry, Eternal SunshineOf The Spotless Mindcasts Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet as lovers who try to erase each other fromtheir memories and then attempt to rekindle the romance.
Focus distributionchief Jack Foley said that the exit polls were strong and that the film had hitits target in the 17 to 35 age "booomers and burbs" audience. Friday andSaturday evening shows were sold out in major cities and the film playedparticularly well in college towns such as Gainsville, Florida, where theUniversity Of Florida is based. Foley said that the strong results in thesemarkets had as much to do with Kaufman's name as it did with Carrey's. Hepredicted that the film would surpass Being John Malkovich($22.9m, Gramercy Pictures, 1999) as the biggestKaufman-penned film to date.
It averaged$6,334 from 1,353 venues and received excellent reviews. Kirsten Dunst, MarkRuffalo, Tom Wilkinson and Elijah Wood also star.
Elsewhere,Columbia's Secret Window fell three places to fifth on $9.6m for $33.1m in its second weekand Warner Bros' Starsky & Hutch fell one to fourth on $10.7m for $67.7m in its third week.
Disney's costly Hidalgois approaching $50m inits third week after it added $8.5m for a $48.5m running total and slipped threeto seventh.
Overall boxoffice for the top 12 pictures came to $110m, up 33% against the same periodlast year when Buena Vista's comedy Bringing Down the House reigned supreme.
Next weekend'swide releases include the Warner Bros family sequel Scooby-Doo 2: MonstersUnleashed starringFreddie Prinze Jr and Sarah Michelle Gellar; Fox Searchlight's urban drama NeverDie Alone starring DMXand David Arquette; Buena Vista's remake The Ladykillers starring Tom Hanks and Marlon Wayans;and Miramax's romantic comedy Jersey Girl, which stars Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler and Jason Biggs.
Estimated TopTen US Mar 19-21 2004
Film(Distributor)/International distribution/Estimated weekend gross/Estimatedtotal to date
1 (-) Dawn OfThe Dead (Universal)Strike/UIP $27.3m -
2 (1) ThePassion Of The Christ(Newmarket) Icon International $19.2m $295.3m
3 (-) TakingLives (Warner Bros)Warner Bros $11.4m -
4 (3) Starsky& Hutch (WarnerBros) Warner Bros/BVI $10.7m $67.7m
5 (2) SecretWindow (Columbia) CTFDI$9.6m $33.1m
6 (-) EternalSunshine Of The Spotless Mind (Focus Features) Focus Features $8.6m -
7 (4) Hidalgo (Buena Vista) BVI $8.5m $48.5m
8 (5) AgentCody Banks: Destination London (MGM) Fox International $6m $17.3m
9 (6) FiftyFirst Dates (Columbia)CTFDI $4.3m $113.2m
10 (8) ConfessionsOf A Teenage Drama Queen(Buena Vista) BVI $1.5m $27.6m