The Man Without Fear swooped into first place with $45,033,454 at 3,471 theaters over the long President's Day weekend, $2.3 million less than Fox estimated but still handily topping the $23,612,171 of last year's John Q. as the biggest bow the frame has ever seen. For the month of February, the 20th Century Fox release's $40,310,419 three-day haul is only trumped by Hannibal's $58,003,121 start in 2001.
Daredevil marks the second franchise in a row that star Ben Affleck has successfully stepped into after playing Jack Ryan in last summer's $118,907,036-grossing The Sum of All Fears. Pearl Harbor's $59,078,912, though, still stands as his biggest opening.
"You won't have to wait until summer to see the blockbuster event of the year," the ads beckoned, and the $78 million superhero flick delivered with a decidedly summer-like opening in contrast to the deep freeze much of the country faced. It's nowhere near Spider-Man, which snared $39,406,872 on its opening day alone, but it enjoyed by far the biggest start for a movie about a lesser known superhero, topping Blade II's $32,528,016.
Superheroes that haven't permeated the culture like Batman, Superman, X-Men and Spider-Man tend to have a tough time at the box office (The Phantom and Judge Dredd among the casualties). Fox countered this with ads that made Daredevil look like a cross between Spider-Man with his CGI-enhanced leaps from skyscrapers and Batman with his Catwoman-like dynamic with Elektra, played by Hollywood "It" girl Jennifer Garner from the action-packed TV show Alias.
Breaking the weekend down, Daredevil nabbed $15,320,158 on Valentine's Friday, eased 1% on Saturday to $15,200,297. The effects of the East Coast's snowstorm kicked in on Sunday as it fell 36% to $9,789,964. Normally, a picture like this might lose 25% on Sunday thanks to the Monday holiday. It then tumbled a more precipitous-than-normal 52% on Monday (when 82% of high school and elementary students and 41% of college students had the day off) to $4,723,035.
Daredevil got a jump on the weekend with Thursday night screenings at 2,040 theaters (lower than the previously planned 2,500) and made a little less than $1 million, according to Fox distribution chief Bruce Snyder.
"We didn't promote it too much," Snyder told Box Office Mojo. "It was more a convenience for the fans."
Treating the Thursday grosses more like sneak previews, Snyder folded them into the weekend by padding each day with around $250,000. "I thought I'd spread (the grosses) out over the weekend so no single day would seem weird," he said.
Due to the storm on the East Coast, Snyder noted that his Sunday estimates turned out to be too high, and revised them on Monday from the initially reported $43,500,000 for the three-day frame to $41,975,000 and from $50,600,000 for the four-day to $47,300,000.
"The storm really kept us from getting to 50," Snyder explained. "I know we would have had 51 without it."
Daredevil still ended up within Fox's expectations. Going into the weekend, Snyder had the movie pegged at $35 million on the low end for the three-day frame and $42-43 million on the high end. "At the end of last summer when we staked out this date, this is what we were hoping for," he said.
Despite comic book origins that would suggest the picture would play mostly to young males, Daredevil's audience was actually split evenly between the genders and between those over and under the age of 25. Exit polling on moviergoers' reactions was unavailable, but those polled by CinemaScore gave it a B—a lukewarm response by that firm's standards.
Attached to Daredevil was the trailer for Fox's other Marvel Comics tentpole X2, which Snyder said had "great reactions." X2 kicks off the summer movie season on May 2.