Mutants mint the moolah

Fox's 'X-Men' sequel nabs record $155 mil worldwide

The summer of sequels opened with a blast, as “X2: X-Men United” not only clobbered its predecessor but rang up a scintillating $155.2 million worldwide.

The estimated $85.9 million domestic haul for 20th Century Fox’s “X2” is the first $50 million-plus bow of 2003 and repped the fourth-biggest opening ever. Perf trailed only last year’s historic $114.8 million debut by Sony’s rival Marvel Comics adaptation “Spider-Man” and bows by Warner Bros.’ two “Harry Potter”pics.

Opening in 93 foreign territories in the biggest day-and-date global debut ever, “X2” brought in $69.3 million overseas on its way to its record worldwide gross.

“It’s an absolutely remarkable start,” Fox distrib prexy Bruce Snyder enthused.

“X2” drew mostly positive crix comment, helping pic well outpace pre-release projections. Debut improved on franchise original’s July 2000 opening of $54.5 million by 58%, repping one of the biggest sequel “bounces” ever.

“X2” made good use of its record 3,741 engagements, ringing up an enviable $22,948 per theater. Double- and triple screening of the two-hour-plus pic produced a print run just under the record 8,000-screen bow for “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.”

Negative cost on effects-laden “X2” is estimated at $110 million.

Disney’s adaptation of a hit TV show, “The Lizzie McGuire Movie,” also impressed with an estimated $17 million bow. Sony soph-sesher “Identity” was third with $9.5 million in a 41% fall-off from suspenser’s chart-topping debut.

Industrywide, the first official weekend of “summer” rung up $153 million in total estimated grosses, or almost 7% less than the same frame last year, according to data from B.O. tracker Nielsen EDI. The year-earlier sesh featured the boffo “Spidey” bow.

Among this weekend’s limited openers, Miramax drama “Blue Car” grossed an estimated $31,000 from six theaters, or $5,167 per venue.

Distrib’s Al Pacino starrer “People I Know” held in five locations and grossed $20,000, or $4,000 per site.

Fox Searchlight opened drama “The Dancer Upstairs” in 13 locations and grossed $105,300, or a solid $8,100 per site with plans to expand to 55 engagements Friday.

“Beckham” plays ball

Searchlight’s platforming “Bend it Like Beckham” managed a ninth-place tie this weekend, even though the femme-soccer drama has yet to hit wide release. “Beckham” booted almost $1.5 million from 484 runs, or $3,006 per playdate with an $11 million cume.

Distrib’s Nick Nolte starrer “The Good Thief” added 20 engagements for a total 221 and grossed $365,000, or $1,652 per engagement with a $2.5 million cume.

Sony Classics debuted drama “Owning Mahoney” in nine theaters and grossed $35,123, or $3,903 per venue.

Distrib’s “Winged Migration” docu added six locations for a total eight and grossed $90,546, or $11,318 per site with a $189,285 cume.

Thinkfilm docu “Spellbound” sold out most showings in a Film Forum exclu in Gotham and grossed $17,569. Pic totes a $23,107 cume after a Wednesday bow.

United Artists suspenser “City of Ghosts” again spooked half a dozen locations and grossed $18,000, or $3,042 per site with a $59,000 cume.

Duff enough

Solid “Lizzie” bow should stoke continued industry buzz about the budding career of 15-year-old topliner Hilary Duff, who also stars in the Disney Channel TV show that created the title character.

“We’re extremely happy,” Disney distrib boss Chuck Viane said. “We went in with the idea of counter-programming to the male-dominated audience and it worked.”

Some 70% of “Lizzie” patrons were femme, most teens and tweens. “X2” auds were 56% male, with 45% under age 25.

Most of the previous week’s top 10 pics were hit hard by “X2,” but New Line’s “The Real Cancun” appeared doubly hammered by the tough competish and harsh word-of-mouth. Unscripted spring break docu-drama dropped a stunning 72% off its poor bow to gross $600,000, or just $265 from each of 2,261 playdates.

Looking ahead, “X2” should be able to maintain good market hold for at least another weekend before Warners’ hugely anticipated actioner “The Matrix Reloaded” unspools Thursday, May 15. “Lizzie” could be challenged a bit by Eddie Murphy-toplined family pic “Daddy Day Care,” the only wide opener set for the May 9 sesh.

Fox execs believe “X2” will be studio’s biggest grosser this summer despite anticipated big bite by the “Matrix” sequel.

Meanwhile, big “X2” bow continues a major hot streak for Marvel Comics, which now has seen its comix-inspired franchises produce six consecutive No. 1 movie debuts.

“I had so much confidence in this movie and it’s marketing,” Marvel Studios prexy Avi Arad said. “We made a movie that stands on its own. You didn’t need to see the first ‘X-Men’ to enjoy this one, and the (positive) exit surveys prove that. It’s a great, great tribute to Marvel.”

Discussions are under way about another “X-Men” sequel, Arad said.

“Obviously, we’ll make another one,” he quipped. “We’ve been talking about it since the beginning of ‘X2.'”

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