LOS ANGELES -
Mutants ruled the box office as "X2" from 20th Century Fox and Marvel Entertainment arrived to $155.2 million worldwide, the biggest global opening ever.
With $85.9 million domestically and $69.3 million from 93 international territories, "X2: X-Men United" beat the $149.9 million worldwide opening weekend record by "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" ($62 million domestically and $87.9 million abroad).
"X2's" strategy for generating global box office sizzle will be the model for future day and date worldwide event film openings. Insiders expected "X2" to do $70-75 million in the U.S., so $85.9 million was a welcome surprise for News Corp. (NWS: Research, Estimates)'s Fox. As the fourth biggest domestic opening ever -- "Spider-Man's" $114.8 million still tops the list -- the PG-13 "X2" is on track for $200-250 million domestically. The original "X-Men" opened in July 2000 to $54.5 million and ultimately grossed $157.2 million domestically. It did $290 million-plus worldwide.
"The breakdown is wonderful -- 56 percent male and 44 percent female, which for something that starts out as a comic book is pretty amazing," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder told me. "The demographics on age are also surprising -- 48 percent under 25 and 52 percent over 25. That, I think, has to do with the spectacular reviews. The playability of the movie is wonderful and it's a great kickoff to summer."
Fox's strategy of opening "X2" two weeks before AOL Time Warner (AOL: Research, Estimates)'s Warner Bros.' much anticipated "The Matrix Reloaded" hit the bulls-eye. "We'll cruise right through," Snyder said. "They're not going to stop us. They'll certainly ding us when they open, but we're going to be playing for a good long time." The R-rated "Matrix's" biggest following is expected to be under-25 males.
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Fox launched "X2" in 93 international markets with about 7,500 prints. "There were fabulous numbers around the world. The wonderful thing is that the film translated into so many different cultures," Fox International president Scott Neeson observed.
One key factor behind Fox releasing "X2" worldwide simultaneously, Neeson explained, "was the speed of communication these days, particularly with the Internet. It began to take on the feel of a universal event. People in the U.K. and people in Brazil know as much about what's going on with American culture in terms of movies, in particular, as anyone else. There was such a buzz for the film that we decided we would take it all the same weekend.
"With today's incredibly fast communications, it seemed the only way to go. Television is global now. We have satellite. You know what the No. 1 film in America is by Saturday or Sunday if you're in the U.K. or if you're in Taiwan."
A secondary reason, Neeson added, was staying ahead of video pirates: "In going day and date, it does diminish the effect of those pirated copies."
It also was a terrific weekend for Disney (DIS: Research, Estimates), which opened its comedy "The Lizzie McGuire Movie" in second place to $17 million. Disney also finished fifth with its comedy "Holes," which has done $45 million in 17 days and is heading for a nicely profitable $60-65 million.
"Counter programming has always been a very necessary ingredient of the type of pictures we make," Buena Vista Distribution president Chuck Viane said. "There's no question, if we do it properly we can really score."
Who was there? "Teens and 'tweens and basically females. A very specific audience that absolutely loves this," Viane said. "Parents' reaction is also an A (in CinemaScore research). Amazingly, 'X2' and 'Lizzie McGuire' both scored 94 percent in CinemaScore, which means they are huge crowd pleasers and are going to be around for a while."
-- Martin Grove appears Mondays on CNNfn's "The Biz," which airs at 12:30 p.m., 8 p.m. and 11 p.m., ET.