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'Evil' rules box office

'Evil' rules box office © Screen Gems 'Evil' rules box office

By Todd Cunningham

"Resident Evil: Retribution" kicked butt at the weekend domestic box office, rolling up $21 million and swamping the 3D re-release of "Finding Nemo."

It was even bigger overseas, grossing an estimated $50 million, led by a $10.3 million opening in Japan. That's the biggest of the year for a Hollywood movie there, topping both "Dark Knight Rises" and "The Avengers."

But even with all that, the most eye-popping numbers of the weekend were posted by Paul Thomas Anderson's Scientology-inspired tale "The Master." It posted the year's biggest specialty box office opening, taking in $729,745 from five theaters in New York and Los Angeles.

Find:Which celebs are Scientologists?

That's a $145,949 per-screen average for the Weinstein Company release, and easily tops the year's previous highest, "Moonrise Kingdom." Wes Anderson's quirky 1960s tale of tween love rolled up a per-location average of $130,752 while playing in four theaters over three days on Memorial Day weekend.

"It was a perfect storm," the Weinstein Company's president of theatrical distribution Erik Lomis told TheWrap. "The reviews have been great, the buzz from the festivals helped and the date change worked."

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TWC had planned to go out in mid-October, but moved it up as the heat around the film built. Lomis said the plan is to expand the film broadly and quickly. "The Master" will go into around 135 markets for the film's second week, in around 800 theaters.

Lomis also said the movie benefited from a series of "pop-up" screening hosted by Anderson. He hosted impromptu screenings in L.A., San Francisco and Chicago prior to the Venice fest, then did others recently in Austin, Texas, and New York.

Also:What did the critics think?

"You combine that kind of effort and guerrilla marketing with the Weinstein Company's publicity machine and you have something special," Lomis said.

Members of the Church of Scientology had condemned "The Master"  and e-mailed and sent letters to the Weinstein Company prior to its opening, but last week's premiere was protest-free and the weekend's box office clearly wasn't affected.

"The Master" was screened at the Venice and Toronto film festivals and is drawing major buzz over its subject matter and the return of Joaquin Phoenix to the big screen. He was last seen in the 2010 mock documentary "I'm Still Here."

"The Master" tells the tale of a World War II Naval veteran (Phoenix)  who arrives home from war unsettled and uncertain of his future -- until he is tantalized by The Cause and its charismatic leader (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Scientology and its founder L. Ron Hubbard provided inspiration for the film, Anderson ("There Will Be Blood") has said in interviews.

Disney's "Finding Nemo" took in about $17.5 million from 2,904 theaters. Those numbers are close to the ones posted by the 3D version of "Beauty and the Beast," which bowed to $17 million in January and topped out at $47 million. Last year's 3D re-release of "Lion King" debuted with $30 million and took in $94 million domestically.

With "Retribution" and "Nemo" leading the way, the North American box office was on pace to come in at around $80 million. That's about 15 percent off from the same weekend last year when the 3D re-release of "Lion King" led the way, but better than last week's dismal $68 million.

"Resident Evil," Screen Gems and Constantin Films' R-rated thriller, is the fifth film in the franchise based on the Capcom survival horror video game series  of the same name. Its numbers are in line with the franchise's previous entries.

"Resident Evil: Afterlife" debuted to $26 million in 2010, "Resident Evil: Extinction" opened to $23.7 million in 2007 and  "Resident Evil: Apocalypse" bowed to $23 million in 2004.

"Retribution" played at 3,012 locations. Sixty-four percent of the opening weekend audience was male and 45 percent was under 25. "Retribution" got a big boost from 3D, which made up 48 percent of the audience. The film also played at Imax theaters and took in $3 million domestically and another $3.1 million from big screens overseas.

"Possession," which has been No. 1 the past two weeks, finished third with $5.8 million. The Lionsgate exorcism tale's overall box office is at $41 million.

"Lawless," the Prohibition Era crime drama from the Weinstein Company, took in $4.2 million to up its overall domestic haul to $30 million after three weeks.

Focus Features' "ParaNorman" and Lionsgate's "Expendables 2" both wound up at around $3 million. Both of those films are in their fifth week of release.

CBS Films' "The Words" took in $2.8 million in its second week, the same figure that Universal's "Bourne Legacy" delivered in its sixth week.

Disney's "The Odd Life of Timothy Green" ($2.5 million) and Warner Bros.' "The Campaign" ($2.4 million) were next.

Absent from the top ten for the first time in the weeks was the documentary "2016: Obama's America," which crossed the $30 million mark in overall grosses. It took in $2 million from 1,083 screens over the weekend.

Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate had a spectacular limited opening of their own, with "Arbitrage."  Opening theatrically at the same time as it became available from video service On Demand, it took in $2,069,770 from 197 screens, a $10,505 per-screen average, best ever for a day-and-date VOD bow.

The film got a boost from strong reviews and publicity blitz by the film's stars Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon and Nate Parker. The film is also No. 2 on iTunes movies overall, and No. 1 in the drama and thriller categories.

Top 10 movies this weekend:
"Resident Evil: Retribution," $21M
"Finding Nemo 3D," $17.5M
"Possession," $5.8M
"Lawless," $4.2M
"ParaNorman," $3M
"Expendables 2," $3M
"The Words," $2.8M
"Bourne Legacy," $2.8M
"Odd Life of Timothy Green," $2.5M
"The Campaign," $2.4M

More from TheWrap:
Milla Jovovich of 'Resident Evil: Retribution': Why Women 'Kick Butt'
Risk-Free Box Office Grosses: Why Nemo, T-Rex and Indiana Jones Are Returning to a Theater Near You

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