When the movie industry receded into a six-week box-office slump at the start of the year, few expected an ancient battle flick with no-name stars, a movie about bikers having a midlife crisis and an action film starring Nicolas Cage to turn things around in such spectacular fashion. But this trio of critically panned movies has surpassed all expectations and put Hollywood on track to possibly have its first $10 billion year. Year-to-date box office has surged to $1.777 billion – 5.31 percent higher than a year ago – according to figures released Monday by box-office tracker Media By Numbers LLC. “Things really turned around when they needed to,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media By Numbers. “Had we gone on with down weekends leading up to the summer, chances for a record-breaking year might have been in jeopardy.” Most impressive has been the Warner Bros. release “300” about the ancient battle of Thermopylae. The film, which had a production budget of just $60 million, has been the No. 1 movie in the marketplace for the past two weekends, grossing an astounding $129.2 million in its first 10 days. The movie had no big-name stars yet set the record for the biggest March opening in history ($70 million) and had the third-largest opening ever for an R-rated movie behind only “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Passion of the Christ.” “It’s really `300′ that’s leading the way; it’s been able to blow past everyone’s expectations,” said Gitesh Pandya, editor of BoxOfficeGuru.com. “The marketing was brilliant, but also the style of filmmaking kept the cost down. It was filmed inside of a Canadian warehouse and a lot of excitement came from the look and feel of the picture. I think this is actually something that will get imitated. “`300′ is on its way to probably doing $180 (million) to $190 million domestically and well over $400 million.” In the weeks before “300” exploded onto the scene, the big surprise was the box-office performance of the Disney comedy “Wild Hogs,” starring Martin Lawrence, Tim Allen, William H. Macy and John Travolta as a group of men on a motorcycle road trip. After a first-place opening, “Hogs” has gone on to spend the past two weeks in second place and now has an impressive three-week total of $104.2 million. But the first film to cross the $100 million mark was the Sony Pictures Entertainment action movie “Ghost Rider,” based on a lesser-known Marvel Comics franchise and starring Cage, who was coming off a lengthy string of flops. “It’s putting us in good position going into the summer season,” Pandya said. “Part of this might just be the anticipation of summer and people need some thrills now. They can’t wait another two months.” “Ghost,” while clearly losing steam in its fourth week, has already grossed $110.4 million and provided Sony, the dominant studio in 2006, with its biggest hit so far this year. Sony also scored this past weekend with the third-place bow of the Sandra Bullock thriller “Premonition,” which took in $17.55 million – the biggest debut of Bullock’s career. Still in the top 10 after six weeks is the Eddie Murphy comedy “Norbit,” a Paramount Pictures release that has taken in $92.4 million to date and is a shoo-in to become the fourth 2006 release to cross the $100 million mark. It’s questionable whether the Disney family picture “Bridge to Terabithia” will make it to $100 million but the movie has performed strong over three weeks with a cumulative gross of $74.9 million. But all of this is a warm-up to what many believe could be a record summer and the biggest year at the box office in history. In the month of May alone, sequels to “Spider-Man,” “Shrek” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” will hit theaters. Post-May, new installments of “Harry Potter,” “Fantastic Four” and the “Bourne” franchises are on tap in addition to a new Pixar animated movie (“Ratatouille”), and sequels to “Rush Hour,” “National Treasure” and George Clooney’s popular “Ocean’s” movies. Dergarabedian thinks all of this firepower could result in a record year for the domestic box office despite the inauspicious start. “We were in a mini-slump that could have turned into a major slump,” he said. “Presidents Day weekend was the turning point.” The highest-grossing year on record remains 2004, when revenue totaled $9.45 billion. Last year, ticket sales wound up at $9.4 billion. “A record-breaking year may have been in jeopardy because you need consistency every weekend,” Dergarabedian said. “But what is happening now is a perfect prelude to a record-breaking May and a $10 billion box-office year.” [email protected] (818) 713-3758 March Moviegoing Madness 2007 year-to-date revenues: $1.777 billion 2006 year-to-date revenues: $1.688 billion Revenue up 5.31 percent Attendance up 3.57 percent Source: Media By Numbers LLC160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!