Underdog ‘Powers’ nat’l B.O.

The pre-summer box office rallied slightly on the strength of surprisingly robust openings from Paramount’s “Breakdown” and New Line’s “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.”

Although with few exceptions Sunday studio projections proved to be overly optimistic, ticket sales for the top 60 films totaled a healthy $67.9 million.

The tally marks a 4% improvement over the previous weekend and a 31% jump from the comparable frame in 1996.

Grossing $9.5 million, “Powers,” with its reported budget of $16.5 million, offered the weekend’s biggest surprise. The film stars Mike Myers as both Austin Powers, a cryogenically preserved ’60s playboy/secret agent, and his arch-nemesis, Dr. Evil.

Late for the revolution

“Having started going out with girls in the early ’80s, I missed the sexual revolution,” Myers told Daily Variety. “I was curious to see how the swinger/jet-set-type guy would fare in the uptight ’90s.”

Part of the marketing challenge was familiarizing audiences with the Powers character, said New Line marketing and distribution president Mitch Goldman.

In addition to traditional advertising, Myers co-wrote and appeared in a number of half-hour cable specials, including MTV’s “Laugh-In” sendup “Austin Powers’ Electric Psychedelic Pussycat Swingers Club” and Comedy Central’s “Biography”-style documentary on the life of Austin Powers.

‘As funny as the movie’

“It’s always been my belief that if you’re doing something like that, it should be pretty good entertainment,” Myers told Daily Variety. “With the MTV special, I was happy to try and make it as funny as anything you would see in the movie.”

Myers will continue to promote the film in the coming week, as will co-star Elizabeth Hurley.

Goldman said the film also had to overcome negative impressions left by Myers’ recent box office disappointments.

Following his feature debut, “Wayne’s World,” which grossed $122 million domestically for Paramount, Myers starred in “Wayne’s World 2” ($46.6) million and “So I Married an Axe Murderer” ($11.6 million).

In addition to college towns, “Austin Powers” fared well in upscale neighborhoods, according to Goldman, indicating that it expanded beyond its core audience of young males.

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