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‘Austin’s’ shagadelic B.O., baby

'Goldmember' spies best laffer debut in boffo bow

HOLLYWOOD — That’s frickin’ boffo, baby!

New Line’s latest “Austin Powers” bowed with appropriately outlandish style this weekend as the potty-mouthed British spy put competish in the dumper with an estimated $71.5 million in box office.

“Austin Powers in Goldmember” thus reps the best-opening laffer ever and best July bow of any sort. It is also a high mark for distrib, topliner Mike Myers and helmer Jay Roach.

“Austin” marked an even more powerful four-day cume of $75 million, thanks to $3.5 million in Thursday night sneaks in two-thirds of pic’s whopping 3,613 theaters.

Also opening was Disney’s “The Country Bears,” but modestly budgeted family tooner foraged only an estimated $5.2 million in sixth place.

DreamWorks widened Tom Hanks starrer “Road to Perdition” by 91 playdates this weekend — for a total 2,250 — to park in second place with an estimated $11 million. Gritty mob drama cruised to a $65.5 million cume through three frames.

And Sony’s family laffer “Stuart Little 2” grossed an estimated $10.7 million to finish third in its soph sesh on a smallish 29% drop.

Tough frames ahead

Industrywide, frame’s $154 million in total estimated grosses repped an approximate wash with the $153.7 million in official grosses rung up over the same sesh a year ago.

Year-to-date, 2002 is 16% ahead of the same portion of last year with $5.35 billion in total grosses, according to data from B.O. tracker Nielsen EDI. But there will be some tough year-over-year comparisons in coming weeks.

The latest sesh compared with a year-ago frame in which “Planet of the Apes” bowed at $68.5 million. Next weekend’s three wide openers — including M. Night Shyamalan’s highly anticipated Mel Gibson starrer “Signs” from Disney — will compare with a year-earlier sesh in which “Rush Hour 2” sped to a $67.4 million frosh frame.

More heat forecast

Industryites insist there are more strong bows to come this summer, with even rival distribs suggesting the huge “Austin” opening was a sign of continuing market strength.

“Anybody who thought the summer was over is crazy,” Sony marketing and distrib boss Jeff Blake said. “We’re certainly banking on it continuing through to August with ‘XXX.'”

Sony unspools that Vin Diesel actioner as one of three wide openers set for Aug. 9. In summer 2001, laffer “American Pie 2” sliced off a $45.1 million first-course B.O. over a similar frame.

Distrib execs said the “Austin” success comes largely on auds’ ample appetite for comedy.

“People are begging to laugh, and there’s not enough comedy out there,” New Line worldwide marketing and distrib prexy Rolf Mittweg said.

Said distrib maven David Tuckerman: “9/11 is still hanging around in our head, and the stock market’s in the toilet. So people just want to go to the movies and laugh their heads off for two hours.”

‘Austin’ swan song?

Original “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” opened at only $9.5 million in May 1997 but went on to gross $53.9 million domestically. “Austin Powers 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me,” bowed at $54.9 million in June 1999 and grossed $205.4 million domestically.

But for all the success of the second “Austin” sequel, there’s no guarantee of a fourth pic in the spy-spoof franchise.

“Never say never,” said Roach, who’s quickly becoming Hollywood’s go-to helmer for laffers after “Austin,” “Meet the Parents” and other genre wins.

But he added that the “Austin” series was conceptualized as a “trilogy.” So Myers — who wrote and produced “Goldmember’ in addition to playing multiple characters — first would have to figure out a novel approach to any future installments, Roach said.

“It’s always about ideas,” he said. “So, when Mike starts to have some really fun ideas it could start to kick in.”

‘Bears’ whimper

The wobbly “Country Bears” bow wasn’t a shock to Disney execs, who noted pic’s modest $20 million budget.

In a limited bow this weekend, Paramount Classics laffer “Who Is Cletis Tout?” unspooled with 19 playdates to gross an estimated $67,000, or a middling $3,722 per location.

And Sony Classics opened laffer “Happy Times” with a half-dozen bicoastal runs to gross $34,575, or a pleasant $5,763 per engagement.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, Miramax expanded coming-of-age laffer “Tadpole” to 40 locations from six to gross an estimated $275,000, or a solid $6,875 per site. Pic swims to cume of $402,032.

And Palm boosted drama “Sex and Lucia” by 12 theaters for a total 19 and grossed $102,358. That delivered a $5,387 per-venue average and $246,530 cume.

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