By SANDY COHEN
The Associated Press
Monday, March 12, 2007; 10:04 PM
LOS ANGELES -- An ancient battle. A little-known director. An R rating. No major movie stars.
These are the unlikely ingredients of the weekend's top-grossing film, "300." It earned almost $71 million, making it the best March movie opening in history.
"There's no formula for why it should work other than the movie strikes a nerve," said director Zack Snyder. "It enters pop culture pretty deep because, in some ways, it's all the things we've been deprived of by Hollywood."
It wasn't made by committee, Snyder said: "It's uncompromising, it's particular and it's a hell of a good time. I think the audience could smell that a mile away."
Based on Frank Miller's graphic novel, "300" stars Gerard Butler as Leonidas, king of the Greek city-state of Sparta, who leads his vastly outnumbered men against the Persian invaders. Filmmakers used digitally built backgrounds to re-create the look of Miller's graphic novel, a technique similar to that used on the movie adaptation of Miller's "Sin City."
But technology alone does not a hit movie make. Producer Mark Canton attributed the film's success to Snyder's "brilliant" vision.
"This was a movie that was technologically evolutionary and the storytelling was so profound that (moviegoers) were rooting for the characters," Canton said. "There are themes of heroism, the few standing up against the many, and at last you have a woman in an epic movie who's every bit the partner of the man she's with."
The movie, from Warner Bros., is rated R _ normally a damper on a film's blockbuster potential because it keeps away many male teen viewers. But "300" wound up with the third-best debut ever for an R-rated movie, behind "The Matrix Reloaded" at $91.8 million and "The Passion of the Christ" at $83.8 million.
"Our little movie has no stars, an R rating and a story that nobody knew about," Snyder said. "It's kind of an anomaly."
It helped that the film's violence was stylized, not gory, Canton said: "There was no yuck factor."
"Women love the movie much more than we had ever thought," Snyder said. "That's the thing that made the difference."
A MySpace.com advertising blitz that splashed every profile on the site with "300" ads also sparked interest.
"MySpace had an enormous impact," Canton said. "But it has transcended the limitations of the Internet or the graphic novel. Once you make a great movie, word can spread very quickly."
Warner Bros. is a unit of Time Warner Inc.