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Birthday boy Cruise rules the box office

‘War of the Worlds’ racks up over $200 million worldwide
/ Source: Reuters

Tom Cruise celebrated his 43rd birthday Sunday atop the worldwide box office with “War of the Worlds,” the costly alien-invasion thriller directed by Steven Spielberg.

The impressive $204.2 million global tally, reported Sunday by distributor Paramount Pictures, includes $101.7 million from its first five days of release in North America, where business is getting a much-needed boost from Monday’s July 4 holiday.

While solid, the North American haul falls short of the record $152 million that “Spider-Man 2” earned in its first five days during the July 4 span last year, when the holiday fell on Sunday.

“War of the Worlds” did, however, beat the opening mark of incumbent box office champion “Batman Begins,” which earned $72.9 million during its first five days two weeks ago, albeit without the benefit of a holiday crowd.

Internationally, “War of the Worlds” has earned $102.5 million from 78 countries, including $15 million in the United Kingdom and $15.5 million in Japan, a Paramount spokeswoman said.

“War of the Worlds,” budgeted at about $135 million, began its campaign Wednesday with $21.3 million, topping the $15 million Wednesday start of “Batman Begins,” but not the $40 million bow of “Spider-Man 2.”

Saturday’s sales of $22.7 million represent the biggest single-day haul for both Paramount and Cruise, said the studio, a unit of Viacom Inc.

For the “traditional” three-day period beginning Friday, the film earned $66 million, the second-highest number for 2005, behind the $108.4 million weekend for “Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith.” That film opened on a Thursday with midnight screenings, making comparisons with “War” difficult.

Some Hollywood commentators have speculated that the movie’s prospects could be hurt by Cruise’s unorthodox publicity campaign. The usually strait-laced actor has raised eyebrows by giddily professing his love for fiancee Katie Holmes, and defiantly extolling the superiority of Scientology over psychiatry.

But the critics liked the movie, which is based on the novel by Victorian writer H.G. Wells. Cruise plays a blue-collar worker who flees with his two children from aliens who are destroying everything in their path. Paramount partnered on the project with closely held DreamWorks SKG, of which Spielberg is a founding partner.

Because the year-ago period set a record for the July 4 holiday, overall sales this time are expected to fall for a 19th consecutive weekend. A clearer picture will emerge Monday, because most studios did not report figures Sunday. ”Batman Begins” led the field last weekend with $27.6 million.