As "X"-pected, 20th Century Fox's "X-Men" opened to "X"-ceptionally strong business.
"X-Men" topped the chart with an "X"-citing estimated $57.5 million at 3,025 theaters ($19,008 per theater).
Its per-theater average was the highest for any film playing in wide or limited release this weekend.
Driven by "X-Men" and helped by surprisingly strong holds for the four other Top Five films -- Dimension Films' "Scary Movie," Warner Bros.' "The Perfect Storm," Columbia's "The Patriot" and Buena Vista's "Disney's The Kid" - key films grossed about $150 million this weekend. Ticket sales soared more than 36 percent over the comparable weekend last summer.
Insiders pointed to the strength of late summer releases like "X-Men" and "Scary Movie" and said media prophets of gloom and doom may have spoken too soon in calling this summer a disaster compared to last summer.
Looking at "X-Men's" blockbuster launch, 20th Domestic Film Group chairman and senior executive vice president of Fox Filmed Entertainment Tom Sherak said Sunday morning, "That becomes the highest-grossing, non-holiday, non-sequel opening of all time."
Sherak noted that Paramount's "Mission: Impossible 2," which opened May 24 for Memorial Day weekend, "did $57.8 million in three days, but 'Mission's' a sequel."
Asked how he feels about "X-Men's" blockbuster launch, Sherak replied, "In the immortal words of Phil Rizzuto - 'Holy cow!'"
Sherak pointed to Fox's exit polls as a sign of "X-Men's" strength: "It's a PG-13 movie. It cost $75 million. And the exits are the same across the board. The audience on Friday night was 65 percent male and 35 percent female. 50 percent over 25 and 50 percent under 25, which is incredible. And across the board, it's almost the same numbers - young males liking it the best at 88 percent; older males 80 percent; younger females and older females at 80 percent.
"The definite recommend overall is 75 percent. It's broken up 75 percent, 77%, 72 percent and 74 percent -- meaning that it's the same across the board (for younger and older males and younger and older females) and it's good. It's playing to everybody. And it's playing ethnically, also - huge."
From Friday to Saturday, "X-Men" was off 8 percent, according to Sherak. "Not bad," he explained. "(With a drop of) 5 percent to 10%, be as happy as you can be. Don't forget, something like this has a huge fan base, and Friday's always going to be the biggest day. Think of the fan base - young males."
Focusing on what "X-Men's" success means to Fox, Sherak observed, "This is a tent pole movie. This is what makes studios studios. Tent poles. This now becomes, hopefully, the next tent pole movie. Think of 'Star Wars' and then think of this movie - good and evil, young kids, people trying to take care of other people, a guy and a girl - no love interest, but a guy and a girl.
"Also, this movie has something that I'm not quite sure 'Star Wars' had but which is important as you go into 2000 and the '00s; this has people that are different. It treats it in a way that (says) you don't have to be the same. It deals with things that you don't read about and you don't see, but it's implied in the movie that have to do with today. I think even though it's in the future, it's just interesting how that works with the audience and why you see these exits the way you see them. They're getting things out of it, a la 'Star Wars,' that are sort of inside it. And they're enjoying that."
As an indication of how much business "X-Men" was doing this weekend, Sherak noted that New York's new AMC multiplex in Times Square has $190,000 in "the two days so far (Friday and Saturday). They're going to do over $275,000 for the three days. The highest gross ever for a theater, I would believe, for a (non-holiday) weekend." The film is playing, he said, on seven screens there.
Directed by Bryan Singer and produced by Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter, "X-Men'" extensive cast is headed by Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman and Ian McKellen.
Dimension Films' R-rated gross-out comedy horror film spoof "Scary Movie" held up better than expected, slipping one slot in its second week to second place, with an estimated $26.1 million (-39 percent) at 3,152 theaters (+240 theaters; $8,280 per theater). Its cume is approximately $89.0 million.
"It's a terrific hold," Miramax senior vice president, marketing David Kaminow said Sunday morning. "I think we're looking right now at (getting to) probably between $135 million and $140 million. We're thrilled with the business. (To be) off 39 percent is great.
"We were down Friday to Saturday last weekend. This weekend we were up 24 percent (from Friday to Saturday). That was nice. We're already getting some repeat business, which is great."
Directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans, it stars Carmen Electra and Shannon Elizabeth.
Warner Bros.' PG-13-rated adventure drama blockbuster "The Perfect Storm" floated down one rung to third place in its third week with a still torrential estimated $17.49 million (-36 percent) at 3,407 theaters (theater count unchanged; $5,134 per theater). Its cume is approximately $128.9 million.
"Hopefully, $200 million," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning when asked where "Storm" appears to be heading domestically. "The minimum (projection) I have right now is about $188-190 million. If we can hold our estimate this weekend, I think we have a really good shot at (getting to $200 million)."
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen, "Storm" stars George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg.
Columbia and Centropolis Entertainment's "The Patriot" was showing good legs in fourth place, down one peg in its third week with a solid estimated $11.0 million (-29 percent) at 3,061 theaters (theater count unchanged; $3,594 per theater). Its cume is approximately $83.2 million, heading for $125 million.
"We opened a number of foreign territories," Sony Pictures Releasing's Mark Zucker said Sunday morning. "We're number one in France, where we'll do about 20 million Francs this weekend, similar to the 'Erin Brockovich' opening, which was excellent. In dollars, it's about $3 million. We expect it to play in a similar fashion. We've got about 20 percent of the market there.
"We also have number ones in Argentina, Switzerland and Columbia. In Mexico, it's number two, behind a huge weekend for 'Dinosaur.' In the U.K., it's unfortunately number three, but we're not that surprised. They're not happy with some of it. The first two were 'Chicken Run' and 'Mission: Impossible 2.'"
This week will see "Patriot" open Thursday (July 20) in Australia as well as Spain and Brazil. "In Australia, we've got huge expectations, obviously (with Mel Gibson starring in the film)," Zucker said. "There's some great research going there. It's a very big first choice already."
Directed by Roland Emmerich, "Patriot" stars Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger.
Buena Vista/Disney's PG-rated comedy "Disney's The Kid" dropped one notch to fifth place in its second week, holding well with an encouraging estimated $10.5 million (-17 percent) at 2,320 theaters (+153 theaters; $4,532 per theater). Its cume is approximately $30.0 million.
Directed by Jon Turtletaub, it stars Bruce Willis.
DreamWorks' G-rated animated feature "Chicken Run" was sixth, down one leg in its fourth week with a leaner estimated $7.8 million (-22 percent) at 2,953 theaters (+52 theaters; $2,647 per theater). Its cume is approximately $76.9 million, heading for $85 million or more in domestic theaters.
Directed by Peter Lord & Nick Park, "Chicken" features such voices as Mel Gibson and Miranda Richardson.
20th Century Fox's R-rated Jim Carrey comedy "Me, Myself & Irene" fell one rung to seven h place in its fourth week with a quiet estimated $5.7 million (-33 percent) at 2,850 theaters (-146 theaters; $2,000 per theater). Its cume is approximately $77.1 million.
Directed by Peter & Bobby Farrelly ("There's Something About Mary"), "Irene" stars Jim Carrey and Renee Zellweger.
20th Century Fox's PG-13 comedy "Big Momma's House" held on to eighth place in its seventh week with a still hefty estimated $2.75 million (-33 percent) at 1,843 theaters (-83 theaters; $1,492 per theater). Its cume is approximately $108.2 million.
Directed by Raja Gosnell, it stars Martin Lawrence and Nia Long.
Buena Vista/Touchstone's PG-13-rated action thriller "Gone In 60 Seconds" rose one rung to ninth place in its sixth weekend, holding okay with an estimated $2.6 million (-29 percent) at 1,702 theaters (-169 theaters; $1,505 per theater). Its cume is approximately $91.1 million.
Directed by Dominic Sena and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Mike Stenson, "Gone" stars Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Paramount's R-rated urban appeal remake "Shaft," down three slots in its fifth week with a dull estimated $2.45 million (-39 percent) at 1,747 theaters (-515 theaters; $1,402 per theater). Its cume is approximately $66.0 million, heading for $71-72 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by John Singleton, "Shaft" stars Samuel L. Jackson and Vanessa Williams.