The summer movie season got off to a strong early start this weekend with "X2: X-Men United" grossing an estimated $85.8 million domestically and setting an international record.
In second place was Walt Disney Pictures' "The Lizzie McGuire Movie," which brought in an estimated $17 million domestically, playing to an audience mostly of young girls.
The global release of "X2" was partly a bid to stave off piracy. Planning ahead for its simultaneous international opening, 20th Century Fox worked to get the movie translated into several languages in time for Friday's release. The studio also kept a tight grip on prints of the movie in hopes of keeping pirated versions off the Internet.
The effort paid off, at least in bragging rights: The X-Men sequel beat "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" on its worldwide opening weekend. "X2" grossed an estimated $155.1 million worldwide, while "The Two Towers" took in $149.9 million.
Domestically, the audience for "X2" was 56% male and, interestingly, 52% of those who saw it were over age 25, said Bruce Snyder, president of domestic distribution.
It is the sixth movie in the Marvel comic book series, which also includes "Daredevil," "Spider-Man," "Blade II" and this summer's "The Hulk." The popularity of those films also has helped boost sales of the comic books, said Avi Arad, president of Marvel Studios.
"The people who had read those comic books and left us have now come back," Arad said.
"I think we can relate to these heroes. They have totally relatable day-to-day issues that we have to deal with. And deep down, everybody wants to be a hero."
"X2," however, did not approach the box office heroics of its comic book sibling "Spider-Man," which grossed $114.9 million domestically in its opening weekend at this time last year.
"X2" also will soon face formidable competition from "The Matrix Reloaded," which is due out May 15.
Even if it survives the "Matrix" sequel, the summer battles will really heat up in June and July. With an aspiring blockbuster coming out nearly every weekend, laggards will lose screens to the newcomers.
Overall, box office receipts for the top 12 movies were down 7.6% from last year, with an estimated gross of $140.8 million, compared with $152.4 million.
However, powered by "X2," the weekend receipts were up 88% when compared to last weekend's gross of $74.9 million, according to Exhibitor Relations Inc., a box office tracking firm.
All in all, it was a respectable performance, considering the presence of "Spider-Man" last year at this time. "It's much better than we thought in terms of the comparison to last year," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations.
Up against the mutant heroes of "X2," "Lizzie McGuire" seemed to work well as counterprogramming.
The movie, which is rated PG, garnered a majority audience of girls ages 6 to 14.
Based on the popular television show about a cute teenage klutz, the movie was also boosted by the No. 1 debut this week of star Hilary Duff's album.
The surprise hit "Identity" continued a strong performance and was the weekend's No. 3 film. The John Cusack thriller grossed $9.5 million this weekend, for a total two-week box office gross of $30.2 million.
Fox Searchlight's "Bend It Like Beckham" continued to kick along, breaking into the top 10 after eight weeks out. The British crowd-pleaser brought in $1.4 million this weekend on 484 screens for a total of $10.9 million.
New Line Cinema's dismally performing effort at reality TV-style moviemaking, "The Real Cancun," sank even lower in its second week, grossing a meager estimated $600,000.
Among the smaller new releases, John Malkovich's directorial debut, "The Dancer Upstairs," grossed $105,000 in 13 theaters.
Sony Pictures Classics' "Owning Mahowny" grossed $35,123 on nine screens.
And the spelling-bee documentary "Spellbound" did exceptionally well on its single screen, bringing in an estimated $17,569. The movie, which was nominated for a best documentary Oscar this year, has made $23,107 since its release Wednesday.
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Preliminary results based on studio projections.
*--* Movie 3-day gross Total (millions)
*--* X2: X-Men United $85.8 $85.8
The Lizzie McGuire Movie 17.0 17.0
Identity 9.5 30.2
Anger Management 8.5 115.3
Holes 6.5 44.9
Malibu's Most Wanted 4.0 28.9
Confidence 2.5 8.4
It Runs in the Family 1.5 5.1
Bend It Like Beckham 1.4 10.9
Bulletproof Monk 1.4 21.5 Source: Nielsen EDI Inc Los Angeles Times