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That's One Groovy Debut

Box Office* 'Powers' overcomes mixed, negative reviews to become the highest-grossing film to open in July. 'Perdition' is in the No. 2 spot.


Despite mixed-to-negative reviews that urged moviegoers to brace themselves for audaciously scatological humor, "Austin Powers in Goldmember" demonstrated sexy-beast appeal this weekend to emerge as the highest-grossing film to open in the month of July.

According to preliminary data released by box-office tracking firm Nielsen EDI, the third installment in the spy parody series from New Line Cinema collected an estimated $71.45 million its first weekend run, beating former July champ "Planet of the Apes," which took in $68.53 million when it opened exactly one year ago.

"Goldmember" also shattered the record for the biggest comedy opening, bumping from the top spot last year's "Rush Hour 2," another sequel distributed by New Line.

The commercial performance is consistent with the upward-sloping evolution of the tongue-in-cheek franchise. In 1997, the original Austin Powers made $53.9 million during its entire theatrical run, while the 1999 follow-up, "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," raked in $54.9 million in just its opening weekend.

Combined with the almost $3.6 million the film grossed in previews Thursday, the current windfall confirms that the public's appetite for groovy adventures from the mock-James Bond spy has not waned, said Dan Marks, an executive with Nielsen EDI. "The critics are not gonna hurt a picture like this."

Exit polls conducted by the film's distributor revealed that the broad comedy featured in the movie went across best with audience members under 25. Among the teenage set, some have caught the film more than once over the weekend, says "Goldmember" producer John Lyons. "It's a dream come true to get repeat business from teens."

"Goldmember" cost $80 million to produce, Lyons says, and generated an average of $19,776 in box-office returns per screen this weekend when it was shown on 5,812 screens in 3,613 theaters across the country.

Returnees rounded out the top five films the weekend. The gangster drama "Road to Perdition," starring Tom Hanks, continued to perform well in its third weekend in release, placing second and grabbing an additional $11 million to increase its revenues to date to $65.6 million.

"Stuart Little 2," a family-friendly picture starring a digitally animated mouse, came in third, scoring an extra $10.7 million in its second week of release to bring its total to $34.8 million.

"Men in Black II," taking in $8.8 million, and "K-19: The Widowmaker," with $7.3 million, occupied, respectively, the fourth and fifth slots, both taking sharp drops from the previous week.

Making an OK debut in 2,553 theaters was "Country Bears," Disney's attempt to adapt a theme park ride for the big screen. The film's kiddie appeal ensured $5.2-million returns in the first three days of its run, with a per-theater average of $2,042. Studio sources estimated Sunday that the modest picture, which was made for roughly $20 million, would recoup expenses.

Following the "Bears," respectively, were "Mr. Deeds" with $ 4.2 million and "Reign of Fire" with $3.3 million. "Minority Report" returned to the top 10 at No. 9 with $3.1 million.

Rising to the No. 10 slot was the sleeper hit "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," which has proved surprisingly durable during a 15-week theatrical run. The film took in an impressive $3 million although it played only in 569 theaters across the country, bringing its cumulative box-office returns to $35.4 million.

Among specialized movies that opened Friday, "The Kid Stays in the Picture," the documentary about veteran producer Robert Evans, debuted in New York and Los Angeles in four locations with an estimated $88,799 for an impressive per-theater average of $22,000.

Less auspiciously, the Tim Allen-Christian Slater comedy "Who Is Cletis Tout?" opened with $67,000 in 18 theaters in four major markets for an unexceptional $3,722 per-screen average.

Overall, according to Nielsen EDI, moviegoers plunked down an estimated $154 million for tickets, up from last weekend's lackluster $119.8 million and virtually the same figure as the comparable weekend last year.

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