This article was updated at 9:13 p.m.

“The Hulk” muscled its way to plenty of long green, morphing into the highest June opener ever at $62.6 million this weekend.

Universal’s misunderstood monster displaced “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” for the title of top June debut and tied “Monsters Inc.” as the 17th highest bow of all time. “The Hulk” also gave the studio its third consecutive debut above $50 million following “Bruce Almighty and “2 Fast 2 Furious,” extending the record it set two weeks ago when “2 Fast” opened.

The performance by “The Hulk,” also the fifth largest opening of 2003, came in at the high end of U forecasts. Those figures had been tempered by the pic’s dark themes and uncertainty of how much traction another comic book icon would generate in the marketplace beyond its core fan base.

Popular on Variety

But the session’s two other openers made only modest contributions with “Alex & Emma,” a romantic comedy from Warner Bros. and Franchise, in seventh with $6.2 million and 20th Century Fox’s “From Justin to Kelly” in 11th with $2.9 million. Warner’s distrib chief Dan Fellman voiced optimism that the Rob Reiner-helmed “Alex,” which drew 76% femme audiences, could show legs like last summer’s “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.”

Audiences for helmer Ang Lee’s angst-ridden giant were 62% males and split 50% between over and under 25. Friday’s total hit $24.3 million, followed by $21.4 million on Saturday. U distrib prexy Nikki Rocco said the decline matched studio expectations, given the desire among fans to see “The Hulk” on its first day.

“We’re very pleased to have done this well when we were kicking off a completely new character,” said Rocco, noting that the debut compares favorably with launches of “X-Men” ($54.5 million) and “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” ($47.7 million).

Tom Borys, prexy of BO tracker Nielsen EDI, said the Friday-Saturday decline was not surprising with nearly all younger moviegoers out school. “So at this point of the summer, you tend to see Friday and Saturday numbers flattening out,” he added.

Marvel’s lucky seven

For Marvel, the debut is its seventh consecutive No. 1 opening, following the two “Blade” pix, “Daredevil,” “Spider-Man” and the two “X-Men.” “The Hulk” ranks as the third highest of that group after the still-stunning $114.8 million opening for “Spider-Man” and $85.6 million for “X2: X-Men United” last month.

“It’s an amazing performance for ‘The Hulk,’ given the themes of an anti-hero dealing with rage and repressed memories,” noted Marvel Studio prexy Avi Arad. “Audiences are cheering for the monster and we’re getting great word of mouth.”

Holdovers stay strong

The upbeat developments weren’t limited to “The Hulk” as holdover successes generated solid biz. Disney/Pixar’s fourth outing of “Finding Nemo” pulled in $20.5 million in second with an impressive hold on audiences, declining a mere 28%; U’s third weekend of “2 Fast” followed with $10.3 million, edging its fifth weekend of “Bruce Almighty” with $10 million.

Par’s fourth weekend of “The Italian Job” also continued to show decent legs with $7.2 million and a decline of only 25% from the previous outing.

And Warner’s sixth weekend of “The Matrix Reloaded” saw grosses decline only 30% as it rounded out the top 10 with $4 million, aided by an impressive $782,000 at 50 Imax locations. The giant-screen version has cumed $2.8 million in 17 days; studio plans to go day-and-date with an Imax version of “The Matrix Revolutions” in November.

But the soph seshes for last weekend’s trio of lukewarm openings showed only modest traction. Par’s “Rugrats Go Wild” landed in sixth with $6.6 million while Disney’s “Hollywood Homicide” continued to disappoint with $5.8 million and New Line’s “Dumb & Dumberer” plunged 61% to finish with $4.3 million.

On pace with ’02

“The Hulk” grabbed 43% of the $147 million in overall coin, according to BO tracker Nielsen EDI, and dissipated some of the gloom from last weekend’s $123 million BO total. This weekend’s total was 9% off from the year-ago figure when openings of “Minority Report” and “Lilo & Stitch” both topped $35 million.

“We’re in the $150 million range, which is always a good place to be,” Borys noted. And the weekend’s performance placed the summer total at $1.616 billion — a virtual dead heat with the same point in 2002.

“I think we’ve done pretty well considering that last summer included ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘Star Wars Episode 2,” Borys said. “I think the July schedule looks strong enough to gain on 2002.”

Year-to-date total has reached $3.95 billion, or 3% behind last year.

‘Whale’ sails

On the arthouse circuit, Newmarket’s New Zealand drama “Whale Rider” performed impressively with $609,543 at 78 locations to push its cume to $1.05 million, while Sony Classics posted a respectable opening for Asian epic “The Legend of Suriyothai” with $50,572 at seven locations.

Lions Gate’s soph sesh of crime thriller “The Hard Word” took in $42,000 at seven while United Artists’ Chinese music drama “Together” tuned in $119,000 at 43 screens to lift its cume to $601,000 and Miramax’s “Jet Lag” pulled in $27,000 at three sites to push its total to $60,291.

Sony Classics’ docu “Winged Migration” continued to soar with $361,107 at 77 sites, pushing its cume to $3.5 million. Magnolia’s “Capturing the Friedmans” took in $215,000 at 40 sites and Thinkfilm’s “Spellbound” grossed $333,759 at 93 theaters to lift its cume to $2.13 million.

“The Hulk” will face serious competish next weekend from Sony’s “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.” Fox Searchlight is also debuting scifier “28 Days Later.”