'300: Rise of an Empire'
'300: Rise of an Empire'

So far the 2014 box office keeps surging on, at least compared to 2013--beating last year's numbers for 15 weeks in a row. 

As expected, two decent openers, sequel "300: Rise of an Empire" (Warner Bros.) and Fox/DreamWorks' "Mr. Peabody and Sherman" fell short of their precursors but showed enough life to push the Top 10 total to around $126 million. Both new entries are scoring even better overseas.

The weekend's biggest success story is the limited four-theater opening of Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel" (Fox Searchlight), which scored around $800,000  for a staggering $200,000 per screen average. More on this and other specialized grosses in Arthouse Audit, anon.

1. 300: Rise of an Empire (Warner Bros.) NEW - Cinemascore: B; Criticwire:; Metacritic:

$45,050,000 in 3,470 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $12,893,000; Cumulative: $45,090,000

This long-gestating sequel to 2007's Frank Miller graphic novel adaptation returned neither director Zack Snyder (who produced, but moved on to Warners/Legendary property "Man of Steel") nor star Gerald Butler. Meanwhile, the $455-million worldwide gross of the original inspired a spate of sword and sandal genre films and cable shows. That helps explain the drop off from the $71 million opening weekend haul the first time. In that context, this is a decent start for the $100 million production, particularly with initial foreign grosses looking to be in the $60 million range.

This marks the third release in the genre this year, all in 3D. The earlier entries had much less domestic appeal ("Legend of Hercules" managed just $19 million, "Pompeii" will fall short of $30 million). The 3D worked best for "Rise of an Empire" (15% of the gross from IMAX, 63% overall from 3D), and a strong showing from male ticket buyers (62%, a very high split these days as the younger male audience has been noticeably absent).

The B Cinemascore suggests a more mixed audience response, reinforced by Saturday's gross falling below Friday's actual total (the reported figure includes decent Thursday evening shows), although it actually held better than the first one (which fell 12% its second day).

The release comes with the backdrop of the recent Warners/Legendary divorce, with the latter choosing Universal as its new partner (Warners retains rights to Marvel Comics projects including Superman). This isn't their final release together ("Godzilla" still lurks), but particularly with the strong initial foreign returns this looks like business as usual.

What comes next: Even if this is vulnerable to a quick falloff next weekend (too early to say), this initial take guarantees that the domestic take will not be far short of the first entry, with international looking to be much ahead (the world has changed dramatically since 2007), getting this into positive territory for Warners and Legendary.