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‘Fantastic’ debut snaps box-office downturn

Latest superhero film earns $56 million, helps end 19-week slump
/ Source: The Associated Press

The latest superhero movie may have been just fantastic enough to snap Hollywood's longest modern losing streak at the box office.

The comic-book adaptation "Fantastic Four" raked in $56 million during its first three days, apparently helping to end a swoon in which domestic movie revenues had been down 19 weekends in a row compared to last year's.

The top 12 films took in $141 million, up 2.25 percent from the same weekend in 2004, according to industry estimates Sunday. Numbers often drop slightly when studios release final figures Monday, but this past weekend still should come in ahead of last year's, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.

"It took four superheroes to end this slump, and Hollywood is grateful," Dergarabedian said. "Comic-book movies, if properly marketed, are exactly what mainstream audiences want to see in their summer movies. This just proves again that if you bring out the right kind of movie, people will line at the theater."

"Fantastic Four" far surpassed industry projections of an opening weekend of $40 million or less. 20th Century Fox, which released "Fantastic Four," had expected a debut "in the high 30s," said Bruce Snyder, the studio's head of distribution.

The movie bumped the previous weekend's top film, "War of the Worlds," into second place with $31.3 million. "War of the Worlds" raised its 12-day domestic total to $165.8 million.

Based on the Marvel Comics series that debuted in the early 1960s, "Fantastic Four" stars Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Michael Chiklis and Chris Evans as astronauts who gain superpowers after exposure to a cosmic storm.

If Sunday's estimate holds, "Fantastic Four" would come in ahead of the opening weekend of fellow Marvel adaptation "X-Men," which debuted in 2000 with $54.5 million. Marvel's first "Spider-Man" movie had a record opening weekend of $114.8 million in 2002.

Unlike the well-reviewed "Spider-Man" and "X-Men" films, "Fantastic Four" overcame a drubbing by critics, some calling it a lightweight tale with a sitcom tone.

Hutch Parker, head of production for 20th Century Fox, said many critics are out of touch with mainstream tastes.

"I don't think they really review with an eye toward informing the audience as to what they will like or won't like," Parker said. "I think it's why the audience doesn't look so much to reviews to decide the sort of movies they should see."

While Hollywood appeared to have ended its downturn of 19-straight weekends, movie revenues remain in the doldrums. Revenues this year are running 7 percent behind 2004's, and factoring in higher ticket prices, admissions are off 10 percent.

Revenues may continue to sag in the coming weeks compared to this time last year, when such hits as "I, Robot," "The Bourne Supremacy" and "The Village" had huge opening weekends in July and early August.

Johnny Depp and Tim Burton's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" is expected to do big business this weekend. Other movies coming this month and next include the remake "The Bad News Bears," the action films "The Island" and "Stealth," the comedy "Wedding Crashers" and the TV update "The Dukes of Hazzard."