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Yeah, Baby! ‘Austin Powers’ Shagged Its Way to Theaters 20 Years Ago

When “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” opened May 2, 1997, Variety described it as an “odd mix of sophisticated and lowbrow humor” but was enthused about the Mike Myers-Jay Roach collaboration. The film had cost less than $20 million so it was profitable with a modest $67 million worldwide. There was no deal in place for a sequel, but New Line execs noticed the comedy was a huge hit in home video and on cable. When the studio greenlit a sequel, many rival execs were surprised: They were still defining success solely by domestic box office.

Boosted by massive marketing tie-ins, 1999’s “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” saw a spectacular domestic opening weekend of $55 million and completed its global run with $312 million. “Austin Powers in Goldmember” (2002) scored $296 million worldwide. After many years, rumors persist that a fourth edition is imminent. As Powers himself would say, “Yeah, baby!”

The nothing-is-sacred philosophy was one reason for the films’ success, but it also applied to other aspects of the trilogy — including marketing. When the second “Austin Powers” movie opened in summer 1999, movie fans were feverish about the opening of “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace,” since it had been nearly 20 years since a new “Star Wars” film had appeared. Rather than compete, the New Line team made a joke of it, opening “Spy Who Shagged Me” with a teaser trailer that included the line, “If you see one movie this summer, see ‘Star Wars.’ But if you see two movies, see ‘Austin Powers.’ ”

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Myers, who created the characters, scripted all three  (with Michael McCullers also sharing credit on Nos. 2 and 3). Since then, he went on to huge success as the voice of Shrek, and has the movie “Del” upcoming. Director Roach brought his love of absurdity to the HBO based-on-fact “Recount” and “Game Change,” and more recently directed “Trumbo” and “All the Way.”

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