LOS ANGELES, March 25 (Reuters) - After conquering the North American box office for the last two weekends, the ancient warriors of "300" lost the lead to historical figures from another distant era, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
"TMNT," a computer-animated comedy resurrecting the reptilian superstars of the 1980s, sold an estimated $25.4 million worth of tickets during its first three days, distributor Warner Bros. said on Sunday.
The Time Warner Inc. (TWX.N) -owned studio had expected the $30 million film -- one of six new entries -- to open in the mid-teen millions. The audience was split fairly evenly among children and nostalgic adults, and exit polls were favorable, it said.
"TMNT" is the fourth entry in the crime-fighting franchise; the previous one, the live-action "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III," opened at No. 1 in 1991 with $12.4 million. (Back then, the average ticket price was $4.21; last year, it was $6.55, according to the Motion Picture Assn. of America.)
Warner Bros., a 50/50 partner on "TMNT" with international distributor Weinstein Co., also released "300," which slipped to No. 2 with $20.5 million. The total for the blood-soaked Spartan saga rose to $162.4 million after three weeks.
The studio is off to a good start this year, after a dismal 2006 when it fell to fourth from first place in market share, amid such disappointments as "Poseidon" and "Superman Returns." The last time it had the top two films was December 2001, with "Ocean's 11" and "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."
'SHOOTER' HITS TARGET
The other new releases fought for the scraps in an intensely competitive arena.
The Mark Wahlberg conspiracy thriller "Shooter" opened at No. 3 with a solid $14.5 million, followed by the children's mystery "The Last Mimzy" at No. 5 with $10.2 million, the horror sequel "The Hills Have Eyes 2" at No. 7 with $10 million, the Adam Sandler Sept. 11-related drama "Reign Over Me" at No. 8 with $8.0 million, and the Terrence Howard swimming drama "Pride" at No. 9 with $4.0 million.
"Shooter," which opened on target, stars Wahlberg as a sniper framed for an attempt on the president's life. Two-thirds of the audience was aged over 25, enticed in part by Wahlberg's recent Oscar nomination for "The Departed." Budgeted at just over $60 million, it was released by Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc. VIAb.N
"The Last Mimzy" revolves around two children and some mysterious toys. It was chiefly notable for being directed by Robert Shaye, the co-chairman and co-CEO of the film's distributor New Line Cinema, also a Time Warner unit.
"The Hills Have Eyes 2" fell short of the $15.7 million debut of its 2006 predecessor. Distributor Fox Atomic, the nascent youth-oriented division of News Corp.'s NWSa.N art-house studio Fox Searchlight, said it cost just $15 million to make and would be profitable.
"Reign Over Me," as expected, fell far short of the big $40 million openings for such Sandler comedies as last year's "Click" and 2003's "Anger Management." But his rare dramatic turn as a man who lost his family in the Sept. 11 attacks, drew critical praise and positive audience reaction, said Columbia Pictures, a unit of Sony Corp. (6758.T) (SNE.N)
"Pride" stars Howard in the true story of a swimming coach in Philadelphia. It was released by Lionsgate, a unit of Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. (LGF.N)