Muppets Most Wanted - Miss Piggy

Muppets Most Wanted - Miss Piggy

Need For Speed

Need For Speed

Noah - Russell Crowe

Noah - Russell Crowe

March movies: I didn't want to start by saying "March came in like a lion," but why not? That's exactly what happened!

Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures' 3D action adventure "300: Rise of an Empire" marched in last weekend with $45.1 million and DreamWorks Animation and Fox's 3D animated comedy adventure "Mr. Peabody and Sherman" took off to $32.5 million, so March really got off on the right foot. Both films exceeded industry expectations and they should be boosting March ticket sales nicely in the coming weeks.

Looking at the month's upcoming wide releases, it's a safe bet March isn't going to go out like a boxoffice lamb.

The Story: The R rated "Empire," from producer Zack Snyder (director of "300" and "Man of Steel") and director Noam Murro ("Smart People"), has its roots in Frank Miller's graphic novel "Xerxes." It's told in the same visual style as the franchise's first episode "300," which opened Mar. 9, 2007 to $70.9 million and grossed $210.6 million domestically.

This new chapter of the epic saga takes the action to a fresh battlefield — the sea — as Greek general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) attempts to unite all of Greece by leading the charge that will change the course of the war. Also starring: Eva Green and Lena Headey.

"Empire" was tracking in double digits as an overall first choice. It did best with under-25 males and nearly as well with 25-plus males.

The weekend's other wide opening, "Sherman," from "The Lion King" co-director Rob Minkoff, was tracking best and about equally well with women under and over 25. That's exactly the right audience for a PG rated family film.

The Story: Mr. Peabody, the world's most accomplished dog (voiced by Ty Burell) and his mischievous adopted boy Sherman (Max Charles) take outrageous adventures with their time machine The Wabac – pronounced, of course, The Way Back!

But when Sherman and Penny (Ariel Winter) accidentally rip a hole in the universe, they wreak havoc on history's most important events and Mr. Peabody must come to their rescue before they alter the past, present and future.

This weekend will see the arrival at about 3,000 theatres of another high profile 3D title, the PG-13 action crime drama "Need For Speed" from DreamWorks, Reliance Entertainment and Touchstone Pictures.

Directed by Scott Waugh ("Act of Valor"), "Speed's" based on the video game series created by Electronic Arts. Starring are: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper and Scott Mescudi.

The Story: A near-impossible cross-country race against time begins as a mission for revenge, but proves to be one of redemption.

          "Speed's" tracking best and in double digits with under-25 males.

          Also arriving Mar. 14 is the PG-13 comedy drama "Tyler Perry's The Single Mom's Club" from Lionsgate and The Tyler Perry Company at about 1,600 theatres. It's directed by Perry, who also stars in it with Nia Long, Amy Smart and Wendi McClendon-Covey.

          The Story: A group of single mothers with different backgrounds bond when an incident at their kids' school shows them the humor in life's challenges.

"Moms" is tracking best and about equally well with women under and over 25. Perry's 15 films to date have grossed about $750 million in domestic theatres and "Moms" should add nicely to his brand's success story.

Mar. 21 will see the arrival of Walt Disney Pictures' PG comedy adventure "Muppets Most Wanted." Directed by James Bobin ("The Muppets"), it stars Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell and Tina Fey.

The Story: The Muppets are touring Europe and selling out everywhere, but chaos follows when they're unwittingly entangled in an international crime caper headed by Constantine, the world's Number One Criminal – and, unfortunately, a dead ringer for Kermit!

"Muppets" should have strong appeal to moms-with-kids, the perfect audience for a big brand family film.

Also due Mar. 21 is Summit Entertainment's PG-13 sci-fi action adventure "Divergent." Directed by Neil Burger ("Limitless"), it's based on Veronica Roth's worldwide best-seller and should make a big boxoffice impact.

          The Story: In a world where people are divided into factions, Tris (Shailene Woodley) is Divergent and can't fit into any one group. After uncovering a faction leader's (Kate Winslet) conspiracy to destroy all Divergents, Tris teams up with the mysterious Four (Theo James) to find out why Divergents are so dangerous -- before it's too late.

          "Divergent" should play best to under-25 females, the core audience for other young female appeal book-series driven blockbuster franchises like "The Twilight Saga" and "The Hunger Games."

            Mar. 28 will end the month with a flood of new wide releases, including Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises' adventure drama "Noah," from "Black Swan" director Darren Aronofsky.

            The Story: Russell Crowe stars as the Biblical hero Noah in an epic story of courage, sacrifice and hope.

Focus Features' R rated comedy "Bad Words" is from first-time feature director Jason Bateman, who also stars in it with Kathryn Hahn and Allison Janney.

The Story: Bateman plays a former spelling bee loser who's now an adult seeking revenge by using a loophole to win.

Open Road Films' R rated action crime drama "Sabotage" is directed by David Ayer ("End of Watch") and stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington and Terrence Howard.

The Story: An elite DEA task force team is being wiped out one at a time after robbing a drug cartel's safe house.

Lionsgate and Participant Media's PG-13 biographical drama "Cesar Chavez" rounds out March's final boxoffice weekend. Directed by Diego Luna ("Abel"), it stars Michael Cudlitz, Rosario Dawson and John Malkovich.

The Story: The film's focus is the famed civil rights leader and labor organizer, who's torn between his duties as a husband and father and his commitment to securing a living wage for farm workers. Chavez's triumphant journey is presented as showing that an individual can change the world.

Bottom line: It's too early for summer-style boxoffice numbers, but March should keep the multiplexes humming.