Few releases in recent memory have been more polarising than Zack Snyder’s Watchmen (which presents me with another opportunity for a picture of the lovely Miss. Akerman again!) – and so it’s rather apt that the film’s opening weekend at the US box office has split opinion right down the middle as well.

Snyder’s R-rated adaptation of the apparently unfilmable Alan Moore-Dave Gibbons graphic novel pulled in an estimated $55.7 million over the weekend, comfortably taking the top spot from previous champ, Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes To Jail. Yet critics of the movie have suggested that the figure is something of a disappointment, pointing out that it’s significantly less than the $70 million that Snyder’s last movie, 300, opened to in the same spot two years ago.

But let’s put it all in a little perspective, shall we? Although 300 was, like Watchmen, based on a cult comic book, it benefited from a strong marketing campaign which contained an already iconic catchphrase (Gerry Butler bellowing, “This! Is! SPARTAAAAAA!”) and a clear delineation of the film’s unique visual style and simple plot… 300 guys versus the world.

Watchmen’s marketing, although bold and effective, had a harder job of conveying the intricacies of a convoluted plot and multiple characters to an audience that, for the most part, wouldn’t have heard of the source material. For all the reverence with which Watchmen is held within the geek community, when it comes to Joe Public, the property had little of the brand-name recognition of a Spider-Man, a Batman (or Dark Knight), or even an Iron Man.

Despite that, though, and despite reviews which ranged from wildly positive to efforts so dismissive they could have been penned by Alan Moore, the $55.7 million haul is nothing to be sniffed at. It’s the 12th highest opening of all time for a comic book property. It’s the 6th highest opening of all time for an R-rated movie. It’s the second-highest opening of all time for a DC property, ahead of Batman Begins, Superman Returns and Swamp Thing. It had no stars to speak of (when the biggest star in your film is Billy Crudup, you’re not exactly troubling the A-list). And all of this took place in March, and not the audience-friendly summer months.

Frankly, anyone who was expecting this thing to post Dark Knight-style numbers was barking (although it did rival The Dark Knight’s opening IMAX gross, pulling in around $5.5 million compared to the $6.3 million picked up by Chris Nolan’s classic). However, it would also be foolish not to acknowledge that Warner Bros., the studio bold enough to back Snyder’s vision to the tune of a reported $120 million, must be fairly nervous right now.

After all, they’re not the sole beneficiaries – Fox, thanks to that legal battle over rights, Paramount, which holds international rights, and Legendary Pictures, which co-funded the movie, are all entitled to cuts. And so the break-even figure could be anywhere north of $400 million worldwide. It looks unlikely that Watchmen will reach that at the moment, although in the long term, DVD sales (with multiple versions likely to be available) should be a money-spinner.

Of course, we’ll have a much clearer idea of where the movie is going when the second weekend results are in. Will word of mouth be strong on this challenging, dense, relatively uncommercial movie? Will people be put off by the lack of stars, the violence, a property they’ve never heard of and whispers that the movie is rife with big, blue cock? Maybe. Or maybe word will spread that this isn’t your typical comic book movie, and that the Watchmen should be watched asap, on the biggest screen available.

There were other movies out this weekend, although Watchmen’s dominance was almost total. It pulled in almost $50 million more than the second-placed movie, Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes To Jail. In its third weekend, the comedy drama grossed $8.8 million, giving it $76 million so far.

In third place, Liam Neeson continues to kick arse and take names with the astonishing sleeper success of Taken, which fell just 24% from last week to pull in $7.4 million. It now has $118 million after six weeks (expect a fast tracked sequel). Paul Blart: Mall Cop experienced a similar drop – just 25% – for its fifth-place finish. Its $4.2 million take means that Kevin James comedy now has $133 million after eight weeks (sequel…!).

Meanwhile, Danny Boyle’s Oscar-gobbling Slumdog Millionaire came in fourth, with an estimated $6.9 million contributing to its $125 million overall haul (sequel unlikely!). But the Best Picture bump would seem to be largely over – the movie dropped 42% from last week. With a DVD release just around the corner, $150 million looks to be out of reach.

And that’s pretty much all the box office news that’s fit to print this week, with no other new releases in the mix. Three new movie enter the fray next week – Dwayne Johnson’s Disney adventure, Race To Witch Mountain, would seem to be the obvious candidate for the top spot, although much depends on that Watchmen drop-off.

The other two new releases will probably fare less well. The Last House On The Left remake doesn’t have the immediate brand recognition of a Friday The 13th or Halloween, but should do well enough thanks to ever-loyal horror fans and potential audience intrigue over its shock value. Meanwhile, the risible Fox comedy Miss March might do decent business with undiscerning teen audiences.