Long live ''The Dead.'' Performing better than expected, ''Dawn of the Dead'' turned what was supposed to be a close weekend into a zombie rout, grossing $27.3 million, according to studio estimates.
Most projections were in the low-20 millions, but young male fans turned out in larger numbers than anticipated for the horror remake. Surprisingly strong reviews (including a straight A from EW's Lisa Schwarzbaum) likely brought in a few more curious moviegoers as well.
''The Dead's'' impressive opening meant that Mel Gibson's ''The Passion of the Christ'' had to settle for the No. 2 spot for the first time since opening at the end of February. The controversial smash slipped 40 percent to $19.2 million, bringing its four-week total to $295.3 million. ''The Passion'' now stands as the No. 18 top-grossing film of all time. Within a week it will become only the 18th film to cross the $300 million mark in domestic box office.
Third place went to the new Angelina Jolie thriller ''Taking Lives,'' which debuted with $11.4 million, a decent opening, but one that was certainly hurt by the equally freaky ''Dawn of the Dead.'' Returning films ''Starsky and Hutch'' and ''Secret Window'' rounded out the top five with $10.7 million and $9.6 million, respectively.
Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet's critically praised ''Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind'' premiered in sixth place with $8.6 million, an impressive figure given the film's 1,353 theater count (less than half of ''Dawn of the Dead's'' tally). Still, those zombies boasted the highest per-theater average of the top 10, at almost $10,000 per movie house.