Essay

Hannibal

Essay title: Hannibal

"Hannibal," a thriller starring Sir Anthony Hopkins in a long-awaited follow-up to the 1991 hit "The Silence of the Lambs," grossed a record-breaking $58 million in its first three days of release in the United States and Canada, according to studio estimates issued on Sunday.

If the numbers hold when final data are issued on Monday, "Hannibal" will replace 2000's "Mission: Impossible II" ($57.9 million) as the third-highest bow in movie history, after 1997's "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" ($72 million) and 1999's "Star Wars: Episode One — The Phantom Menace" ($64.8 million). It also set new records for a non-summer opening, an R-rated release and for a release by domestic distributor Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.

"I must confess I expected it to be big, but not this big," "Hannibal" producer Dino De Laurentiis told Reuters from Berlin.

Indeed most industry expectations were in the $35 million- $40 million range. MGM distribution president Larry Gleason said he had hoped to surpass the $42 million bow of the 2000 horror spoof "Scary Movie," which held the record for an R-rated release.

AUDIENCE LOVES THE VILLAIN

The film stars Hopkins as elegant cannibal Hannibal Lecter. When he's not disemboweling or dining on his hapless victims, he engages in a transatlantic cat-and-mouse game with FBI agent Clarice Starling, played by Julianne Moore. Jodie Foster played Starling in "Lambs," but opted not to return, reportedly because of the new film's violence. Ridley Scott ("Gladiator") directed. The original was directed by Jonathan Demme.

De Laurentiis, in Berlin for the film's screening on Sunday night at the German capital's annual film festival, said audiences have conferred hero status on Hannibal Lecter.

"When he's forced to kill, he kills somebody the audience wants to kill too," he said. "'Hannibal' is a picture in its own. It's a picture that will be remembered forever."

He said Hopkins, who received a $10 million-plus salary for "Hannibal," had asked to be in a sequel. This was confirmed by MGM's Gleason. Whereas "Silence" and "Hannibal" were based on novels by Thomas Harris, the new project would probably bypass the book stage and go straight to script, Gleason said.

As for the violent scenes, both De Laurentiis and Gleason noted that they were staged in an understated way with irony and humor.

"It's playing much more fun than violent, in a weird way," Gleason said. "There's a lot of nervous laughter (among the audience)."

WELCOME NEWS FOR MGM

The film, which cost about $80 million to produce, was released in the United States and Canada by MGM, and will.