'Star Wars' latest in genre to exceed expectations

Maybe 3D still has legs after all.

More than a decade after bowing in theaters, Fox’s “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace,” originally released in 1999, scored a better-than-expected domestic debut of $22.5 million for its 3D retrofit.

The most optimistic bizzers projected “The Phantom Menace” to hit upward of $20 million, while more conservative B.O. observers put the pic in the mid-teen range.

The high-end debut for “Phantom” marks another fine feather in the cap of a growing number of 3D retrofits.

Disney has done well so far with its multidimensional redos, “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast,” the latter of which is approaching the $50 million mark domestically. “The Lion King” kick-started Hollywood’s rush of 3D conversions last fall, grossing a stellar $94 million in North America.

The success of these projects comes at a vital time for the format, when auds (especially families) continue to question the value of paying 3D upcharges.

The Disney pair, as well as “Star Wars” to some extent, prove that family audiences still are willing to venture to the plexes for 3D.

Beyond the retrofit realm, Warner Bros.-New Line’s family-targeted “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” sold plenty of 3D ducats, collecting a higher-than-usual 76% from the format (it accounted for 79% of the pic’s total location count).

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