'X2' Evolves Past Predecessor in Stellar Summer Kick-Off
X2: X-Men United took the nation by storm over the weekend, delivering a stunning opening salvo for the summer movie season.

The Marvel-ous mutants drew $85,558,731 from a record 3,741 theaters. That stands as the fourth biggest opening ever behind Spider-Man's $114,844,116 and the two Harry Potter movies, Sorcerer's Stone's $90,294,621 and Chamber of Secrets' $88,357,488—all of which had comparable super-saturation release patterns.

"It exceeded our expectations," 20th Century Fox distribution chief Bruce Snyder told Box Office Mojo. "On Thursday, I was thinking maybe we'd get $75 million. So $85 million was a pleasant surprise, though not shocking."

Fox projected an $85.85 million weekend on Sunday, bucking the studio's recent trend of overly optimistic estimates for tent poles, such as last May's overshooting of Attack of the Clones's opening by $6 million and the first X-Men's by nearly $3 million. This time, it was the other studios that overestimated, pegging X2 $5 million higher than Fox did.

"It's so tricky to make estimates with a release this wide, factoring in all those missing theaters," Snyder said on Sunday. "Everyone else has us at $90 million to $95 million. I hope they're right."

The $110 million sequel's $75 million predecessor X-Men surprised the industry nearly three years ago with its $54,471,475 start at 3,025 theaters—the then record weekend for a non-sequel—en route to $157,299,717.

X2's 57.07% opening weekend improvement was comparable to The Mummy Returns's 57.11%—another early May release that unwrapped $68,139,035 from 3,410 sites on the same frame in 2001. It ended up with $202,019,785, 30% more than the first Mummy's $155,385,488. A 30% increase would give X2 $204 million final gross, but if it follows the same pattern as X-Men, it would end up with nearly $250 million. And there's evidence to suggest it could have even greater appeal.

Breaking the weekend down, X2 took in $31,247,979 on Friday, the third biggest opening day ever behind Spider-Man's $39,406,872 (on the same frame last year) and Sorcerer's Stone's $32,333,203. X-Men grabbed $21 million on its first day, July 14, 2000.

"Because the first movie was so fan based, it dropped 8% on its first Saturday," Snyder pointed out. "The audience has broadened since, getting older and more female, thanks to the success of the first movie through all its releases—DVD, cable, etc.—building up the fan base."

Demographically, X2's audience was nearly as broad as Spider-Man's. Those over the age of 25 comprised 52% of moviegoers and 44% were female, according to Snyder, compared to Spidey's near even split between ages and genders.

X2 rose 2.4% on Saturday to $32,000,629. That's lower than Spider-Man's 10.7% Saturday bump-up, but on par with Harry Potter's 3.6%. On Sunday, it eased 30.1% to $22,310,123, a slightly steeper drop than Spider-Man's 27.1% Sunday dip.

According to Fox's exit polling, over 90% of moviegoers rated X2 either "excellent" or "very good," again quite similar to Spider-Man's reception. "The reaction was outrageously good across the board," Snyder said. "It's not like only young girls didn't like it. All demos liked it."

Though X2 topped Chamber of Secrets's 3,682 theaters as the widest bow in history, it didn't best the boy wizard's record 8,515 screen count. Snyder estimated X2 is playing at over 7,200 screens, or approximately the same as Spider-Man's 7,500 on this weekend last year.

"I don't know how many interlocks we had," Snyder noted. Interlocking is the practice of theaters using one print for multiple screens. "That's difficult to gauge, so we never know exactly how many screens a movie's on."

Given that Spider-Man leapt to 3,876 theaters later in its run, believe it or not there could be room for X2 to expand upon its super-saturation release. "If you can find a barn I can drop a sheet on, I'm there," Snyder quipped.

In its unprecedented day-and-date debut on around 7,600 screens in 93 overseas markets, X2 yielded an additional $69,270,300. That's a little more than the $69.1 million from 5,854 screens that Attack of the Clones made last May in its then record 72-country day-and-date launch. The Two Towers's $87.9 million haul from 27 territories still ranks as the biggest overseas weekend ever. The first X-Men generated $137 million overseas in its entire run.

Though a third X-Men movie has not been officially greenlighted yet (a matter of time after a weekend like this), Snyder said ideally he'd like to see X3 released on this same weekend in 2006.

X2 had the headline-making debut, but there was enough room in the marketplace for another strong bow. Exhibiting a sizable fan base for Disney tween queen Hilary Duff, The Lizzie McGuire Movie pulled in $17,338,755 at 2,825 theaters, yet cost a modest $15 million to make. By comparison, the similarly appealing What a Girl Wants starring Nickelodeon tween queen Amanda Bynes grabbed $11,434,964 at 2,964 sites on its first weekend and carried a price-tag of around $25 million.

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