HOLLYWOOD, Nov. 10 (UPI) -- The opening of Eminem's "8 Mile" easily led the nation's weekend box office with an estimated $54.5 million at 2,470 theaters during the Friday-Sunday period, studio sources said Sunday.
Universal's gritty drama, focused on a young man's struggles to become a hip hop star, performed above forecasts as it benefited from the studio's extensive promotional campaign, strong reviews and the successful release of the soundtrack album. The film, loosely based on Eminem's life story, also starred Kim Basinger and Britney Murphy.
"8 Mile" averaged an impressive $22,050 per location and Universal said 69 percent of the audience was under 25. "The studio did a good job of taking advantage of Eminem's star status among his fans and helped create a lot of curiosity about the film," said movie industry analyst Arthur Rockwell of Rockwell Capital Management.
It was the largest opening since Disney's "Signs" took in $60 million during the first weekend in August. And it indicates strong potential support for the season's high-profile releases, starting with Warner Bros.' "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" next weekend and MGM's "Die Another Day" on Nov. 22.
"Audiences are responding very well to strong commercial product," Rockwell noted. "When that kind of product is there, there's certainly no shortage of customers."
Disney's second weekend of "The Santa Clause 2" finished a distant but solid second with $24.8 million at 3,352 theaters as the sequel dropped only 14 percent from its opening weekend. "Clause 2," which has taken in over $60 million in 10 days is expected to see its audience decline significantly once "Harry Potter" opens.
DreamWorks' fourth weekend of "The Ring" continued to perform well in third with $16.1 million at 2,927 theaters as the thriller lost only 11 percent of its audience from the third weekend. After a moderate start, "The Ring" has grossed $86.2 million in 24 days and is likely to remain a strong draw for several more weeks.
Sony's second weekend of "I Spy" followed in fourth with $9 million at 3,182 theaters as it declined only 29 percent, followed by Paramount's third weekend of "Jackass: The Movie" with $7.2 million at 2,532 sites for a 43 percent decrease. "Jackass," made for a reported $5 million, has become hugely profitable with grosses topping $53 million in 17 days.
A pair of long-running comedy hits took the next two slots with IFC's 30th weekend of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" in sixth with $5.8 million at 1,975 theaters and Disney's seventh weekend of "Sweet Home Alabama" following with $3.8 million at 2,004 locations.
"Wedding" actually gained 2 percent of its audience from the previous weekend and is now the 47th highest domestic grosser ahead of "Toy Story" with $192.8 million. "Alabama," which dropped 17 percent, has totaled $118.6 million to hit the 177th spot on the all-time list ahead of "Back to the Future 2."
Warner's third weekend of "Ghost Ship" came in eighth with $3.2 million at 2,361 sites, followed by its opening of action-thriller "Femme Fatale," starring Rebecca Romjin-Stamos, with a disappointing $2.8 million at 1,066 theaters. "It looks as if the studio opened 'Femme Fatale' largely as a way of preparing for the home video release," Rockwell noted.
Sony's fifth weekend of "Punch-Drunk Love" rounded out the top 10 with $2.6 million at 1,293 theaters, edging Miramax's third weekend of "Frida" with $2.57 million at 319 locations.
Overall business was solid with the 10 totaling nearly $130 million, well ahead of the same weekend a year ago when "Monsters Inc." led with $45.5 million and the top 10 combined for $112.4 million. The year-to-date total is nearing $7.6 billion, 12 percent ahead of the same point last year.
On the specialty circuit, Universal Focus' drama "Far from Heaven" took in an impressive $207,110 at six theaters and United Artists' "Bowling for Columbine" continued to perform well with $1.7 million at 222 sites to boost its total to $6.9 million.
Miramax's "Comedian" grossed $496,000 at 244 locations and Artisan's "Roger Dodger" took in $165,000 at 34 sites.