By Brent Lang
Bowing in 2,756 theaters, "Limitless" had been tracking to pull in between $15 to $16 million, but managed to shatter those numbers thanks to an aggressive marketing campaign from the studio and the film's stars.
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However, drugs alone were no cure for another sluggish weekend at the box office, when much of America was too caught up in their March Madness brackets to venture out to the movie theaters.
Overall the box office was down 10 percent from where it was last year when "Alice in Wonderland" was still going at full steam.
"Limitless" held off competition from "Paul" and "The Lincoln Lawyer" to claim the top spot. It represents the first number one debut for the studio, since Relativity began marketing and distributing its own films last winter.
"Our marketing message that this was a thrill ride with a unique angle got through," Kyle Davies, president of theatrical distribution for Relativity Media, told TheWrap. "Going into the weekend it was a head scratcher about who would pull away, but it's satisfying to break away from the pack."
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"The Lincoln Lawyer" and "Paul" evenly divided the rest of the adult audience. The Matthew McConaughey vehicle grossed $13.4 million in 2,707 theaters, while the alien comedy racked up $13.2 million in 2,802 locations.
Featuring a repairing of English comics Nick Frost and Simon Pegg ("Hot Fuzz"), Universal said it was positioning "Paul" with an eye toward international audiences. So far it has grossed $28.1 million in five territories.
"We're in a great position to recoup our costs. It's a niche film, but it's well liked, which bodes well for the future," Nikki Rocco, Universal's president of distribution, told TheWrap.
As for "The Lincoln Lawyer," Lionsgate tried to differentiate the legal thriller from the glut of new releases by partnering with Groupon. The studio sold 130,000 tickets for $6 through the site and about 40,000 of those have been redeemed, which skews the film's true box office total. The average ticket price is, after all, $8.
Showing real staying power, "Rango" dropped just 21 percent and earned $15.3 million. Showing in 3,843 screens, the Johnny Depp animated film saw its grosses surge after Saturday screenings when kids were out of school. The Paramount film's total now stands at $92.5 million over three weeks.
Last weekend's top film, Sony's "Battle: Los Angeles" suffered a steeper 67 percent fall to earn $14.3 million.
Here's how the weekend's top 10 shaped up:
1.) "Limitless" $19 million
2.) "Rango" $15.3 million
3.) "Battle: Los Angeles" $14.2 million
4.) "The Lincoln Lawyer" $13.4 million
5.) "Paul" $13.2 million
6.) "Red Riding Hood" $7.2 million
7.) "The Adjustment Bureau" $5.9 million
8.) "Mars Needs Moms" $5.3 million
9.) "Beastly" $3.3 million
10.) "Hall Pass" $2.6 million