Audiences feasted on zombies as the fright flick "Dawn of the Dead" ruled the box office, debuting with $27.3 million and bumping "The Passion of the Christ" from the top spot.
Mel Gibson's "The Passion" took in $19.2 million, slipping to second place after three straight weekends on top, according to studio estimates Sunday.
"The Passion" raised its domestic total to $295.3 million since opening Feb. 25. The movie passed "The Sixth Sense," which earned $293.5 million, to take over 18th place on the all-time domestic chart.
Opening in third place with $11.4 million was the serial-killer thriller "Taking Lives," starring Angelina Jolie and Ethan Hawke in a tale of an FBI profiler tracking a murderer who assumes victims' identities.
In narrower release, Jim Carrey's "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" premiered at No. 6 with $8.6 million. Carrey plays a man reliving recollections of a soured romance after he hires a company to erase his memories of his lover, played by Kate Winslet.
The overall box office rose for the fourth straight weekend, with the top 12 movies grossing $109.7 million, up 33 percent from the same weekend a year ago.
Much of that lift is due to "The Passion," which pulled Hollywood out of an early-year slump.
"We anticipated it would open well and contribute to the total box office, but certainly not at this magnitude," said Rob Schwartz, head of distribution for Newmarket Films, which released "The Passion."
Hollywood revenues for the year are at about $1.8 billion, 3 to 4 percent ahead of last year's, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
"Dawn of the Dead" stars Sarah Polley and Ving Rhames in a remake of George Romero's 1979 horror tale about survivors holed up in a shopping mall from a plague of flesh-eating zombies.
Opening in 2,745 theaters, "Dawn of the Dead" averaged a healthy $9,945 a cinema. "Taking Lives" averaged $4,218 average in 2,705 theaters, while "Eternal Sunshine" did $6,334 in 1,353 cinemas.
Remakes have a spotty box-office history, though horror updates such as last year's hit "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" tend to hold less risk because scary movies have a built-in audience.
"They are dicey," said Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal, which released "Dawn of the Dead." "But I think the horror genre, that's a genre that's an audience pleaser. Clearly, everyone's going because they want to see the zombies."
Scary movies tend to drop steeply in subsequent weekends after hardcore horror fans have seen them. But "Dawn of the Dead" cost just $26 million to make, so surpassing its production budget with the opening weekend gross puts it on track to turn a solid profit.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Dawn of the Dead," $27.3 million.
2. "The Passion of the Christ," $19.2 million.
3. "Taking Lives," $11.4 million.
4. "Starsky & Hutch," $10.7 million.
5. "Secret Window," $9.6 million.
6. "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," $8.6 million.
7. "Hidalgo," $8.5 million.
8. "Agent Cody Banks: Destination London," $6 million.
9. "50 First Dates," $4.3 million.
10. "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen," $1.5 million.
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