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Lucas B.O. blast-off an ‘almost’

'Clones' grossed $110.1 mil over four days

Well, not quite.

It turns out the latest George Lucas space epic didn’t quite make it to $86.2 million for three days and didn’t quite top “Spider-Man,” even in four.

Monday’s final figures show “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones” made $80 million, which is $6.2 million, or 7%, less than the early estimate. That’s a bigger-than-usual miss, even by comparison to the famously optimistic weekend projections distribs circulate each Sunday morning.

Of course, it’s possible to view such numbers much like the barroom bully with a glass jaw: The bigger they come, the harder they fall. So, while distribs commonly over-estimate weekend grosses by hundreds of thousands of dollars, the disparity between Sunday’s guesses and Monday “actuals” occasionally runs in the multiple millions when three-day box office soars north of $50 million.

“After all, it’s based only on what we think at the time,” said Bruce Snyder, distribution topper at “Clones’ ” distrib 20th Century Fox. “When we get more information, we put out the final numbers.”

“Clones” grossed $110.1 million over four days through Sunday, after a Thursday bow. That’s a bit short of the $114.8 million tally Sony’s “Spider-Man” managed its first three days, rather than a tad more as originally estimated.

The “Clones” shortfall also means there was no new industrywide B.O. record set over the weekend. Official Nielsen EDI data shows some $171 million in total grosses for the latest frame, just short of the all-time high of $176.9 million in industrywide grosses tallied over November 2000’s pre-Thanksgiving Day sesh.

Distribs use historical precedence in estimating what Sunday grosses will add to pics’ weekend B.O. In the case of “Clones,” Fox used daily perfs from “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” as a B.O. template.

Sunday B.O. for “Phantom Menace” fell less than 10% from the gross from its first Saturday, so penciling in an 11% drop for “Clones” seemed safe, Snyder said. That proved an error, as “Clones” dropped 21% — to $22.5 million — on Sunday.

It’s possible that the “Menace” comparison went awry because that 1999 release bowed on a Wednesday, making its first Sunday pic’s fifth day of release; “Clones” entered only its fourth day on Sunday. “Sunday may have just had a soft side to it,” Snyder said. “I don’t know why.”

Of the latest weekend’s top 10 B.O. finishers, five posted over-optimistic Sunday estimates, two under-estimated their actual grosses, and three were pretty much on the money. The only other wide opener this sesh — Universal’s “About a Boy” actually grossed $8.6 million — $200,000 more than originally forecast.

It’s generally considered easier to crunch three-day estimates in follow-up frames than over opening weekends, for which there’s no established marketplace track record.

“There is so much more speculation involved in the first weekend,” Snyder said. “We hope to be close — certainly within 10% of the number. But when you get to $80 million, it gets to be tougher.