The Universal release, with Carrey as a disenchanted newscaster with divine powers, took in $70.5 million in its first three days to break the $55.1 million record set by Carrey's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" for top non-sequel comedy opening. "Bruce" trailed only last year's $73.1 million for "Austin Powers in Goldmember" for the best three-day opening by a comedy.
"Bruce Almighty" also generated the second-best four-day Memorial Day opening ever, trailing only 1997's "Jurassic Park: The Lost World" with the $90.2 million.
"It's really an amazing number for a comedy," said movie industry analyst Arthur Rockwell of Rockwell Capital Management. "It may be a reflection of the times in that people are hungry for a big comedy that delivers laughs."
"Bruce," also starring Morgan Freeman and Jennifer Aniston, had been expected to perform well given Carrey's strong track record in comedies such as "Liar, Liar," "The Grinch," "The Mask," "The Truman Show" and the "Ace Ventura" films. His forays into drama, such as "Man on the Moon" and "The Majestic," have been far less successful.
Overall business was high-powered with the second weekend of Warner Bros.' "The Matrix Reloaded" remaining a powerful draw with $45.6 million at 3,603 theaters. The sequel, which declined 50 percent from its three-day opening, has now taken in $209.5 million in its first 12 days, placing it 42nd on the all-time list after "Back to the Future" and making it the top-grossing film of 2003.
The strong performances by "Bruce Almighty" and "The Matrix Reloaded" underscore the popularity of Memorial Day weekend as traditionally one of the strongest movie-going periods of the year. The top 10 combined for $189.3 million -- barely ahead of the $188.9 million mark last year when the second weekend of "Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones" led with $66.9 million.
"It is usually a big weekend, but you really have to have strong product at the same time," Rockwell noted.
"Bruce" and "Reloaded" will face serious competition next weekend with Disney's opening of Pixar's animated comedy "Finding Nemo," which has received impressive early reviews. Also opening will be Paramount's remake of "The Italian Job," starring Mark Wahlberg.
Finishing a distant but respectable third was Sony's third weekend of "Daddy Day Care" with $18 million at 3,472 sites as the Eddie Murphy comedy declined by just 5 percent from the previous weekend. "Daddy" has taken in $73.1 million in 18 days and underscored Murphy's ability to generate a strong box office in family comedies.
20th Century Fox's fourth weekend of "X2: X-Men United" also continued to draw well with $13.1 million at 3,067 screens as the sequel decreased by 25 percent. "X2" has now grossed $192 million in 25 days, making it 2003's second-highest grosser and placing it 50th on the all-time list ahead of "Toy Story."
Warner's opening of "The In-Laws," starring Albert Brooks and Michael Douglas in a remake of the 1979 comedy, finished a distant fifth with $9.1 million at 2,652 theaters. "'The In-Laws' seems to have had a difficult time attracting people beyond its core audience of older customers," Rockwell noted.
Fox's "Down With Love" continued to generate only lukewarm interest in sixth with $5.1 million at 2,118 sites, followed by Disney's fourth weekend of "The Lizzie McGuire Movie" with $4 million at 2,118 theaters and its sixth weekend of "Holes" with $3 million at 1,762 locations to lift its 39-day total to $60 million.
Rounding out of the top 10 were Sony's fifth weekend of "Identity" with $2.6 million at 1,590 theaters, edging its seventh weekend of "Anger Management" with $2.4 million at 1,809 locations to lift its total to $131.8 million. "Anger" has gone past "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" for 145th place on the all-time list and topped "Bringing Down the House" as the third-highest grosser of 2003.
Fox Searchlight's 11th weekend of "Bend It Like Beckham" remained a solid performer in 11th with $2.1 million at 523 sites, followed by Warner's sixth weekend of "A Mighty Wind" with $1.8 million at 588 locations. "Beckham" has totaled $17.7 million in three months while "Wind" has topped $14.4 million.
On the art-house circuit, Fox Searchlight's second weekend of French comedy "L'Auberge Espagnole" continued to perform well with $222,800 at 28 theaters.