Gladiator Leads Early-May Box Office

It's been decades since Hollywood produced a topnotch Roman epic. A staple of the film industry through the mid-1960s, sword'n'sandal extravaganzas fell out of favor with both film studios and audiences with the cultural and political upheavals of the late 1960s.

Gladiator has brought the genre back with a bang. Ridley Scott's $100 million action flick, starring Russell Crowe as a disgraced general, led domestic box office during its first weekend in release (May 5–7), pulling in $32.7 million. The joint DreamWorks/Universal project far outdistanced its runner-up, Universal's U-571, which sold an estimated $7.6 million in tickets during the same weekend.

Films with both a 2.5-hour running time and an R rating usually have limited audience appeal, but Gladiator's initial success bodes well for a solid theatrical run, according to Jim Tharp, head of distribution for DreamWorks. The film should do more than $100 million at US theaters, and is expected to do well in the global market. Gladiator was expected to have strong appeal among young males, but an exit poll showed its audience was 45% female.

Battlefield Earth is Gladiator's only immediate competition. The sci-fi thriller, starring John Travolta, debuts this week, followed by Mission: Impossible 2 late this month.

Box-Office Score for the May 5–7 Weekend:
1) Gladiator, $34,819,017
2) U-571, $7,765,375
3) The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, $6,635,925
4) Frequency, $6,513,499
5) Where the Heart Is, $5,113,106
6) Love and Basketball, $3,135,694
7) Keeping the Faith, $2,780,907
8) Rules of Engagement, $2,445,265
9) I Dreamed of Africa, $2,411,445
10) 28 Days, $2,354,619