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''X-Men'' conquers the box office with $57 million

The Marvel comics adaptation has the fourth highest opening weekend ever

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Halle Berry, X-Men
Men: Attila Dory

It’s no surprise that ”X-Men” topped the box office this weekend, but even telepathic Professor Charles Xavier might not have predicted the movie’s extraordinary $57.5 million gross. Fox’s long awaited adaptation of the cult Marvel comics series not only knocked ”Scary Movie” out of its place behind ”Mission: Impossible 2” for the second highest opener of the summer. It’s also the fourth highest debut in history, after ”Lost World: Jurassic Park,” ”Star Wars: Episode I,” and ”M: I-2.” Studio execs had targeted a $35 million three-day take at best for the $75 million flick. While analysts’ forecasts were slightly higher, the superhero adventure’s √úberopening stunned everyone. ”Anything over $40 million would have been great,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations. ”We knew this would be the No. 1 movie, but it performed way beyond expectations.” The film averaged a boffo $19,000 on 3,025 screens.

While the rest of the top movies were clearly outmatched by the collection of gifted mutants, overall figures are sure to please Hollywood execs. Last week’s box office shocker ”Scary Movie” slipped a notch to No. 2 with a comparatively strong $26.2 million take. The Keenen Ivory Wayans slasher send-up’s $89 million 10-day gross is surely something to scream about — the flick has already more than quadrupled its $19 mil budget. ”The Perfect Storm” (No. 3) continued its reign in the top 5 with $17.5 million, while Mel Gibson’s ”The Patriot” (No. 4) scored $11 million and ”Disney’s The Kid” (No. 5) brought in $10.5 million. Totals for the weekend’s top films were up a whopping 39 percent from last summer, when ”Eyes Wide Shut” was the highest grossing film with $21.7 mil. But it’s hard to say whether the box office is finally clear of this summer’s slump. Sure, this Friday marks the debut of three big studio newcomers — ”Loser,” ”What Lies Beneath,” and ”The In Crowd” — that no doubt will draw sizable crowds. But none have the kind of buzz of surrounding them that translated into ”X-Men”’s high powered debut.

CRITICAL MASS Maybe the only people who aren’t marveling at ”X-Men”’s box office force are the millions of comic book junkies who have been tracking the adventures of Xavier’s mutant army for decades — and it looks like at least some of EW.com’s readers are among them. A whopping 53 percent of voters said they went to see the movie for reasons ”other” than its trailer, reviews, or stars, which means that many were already quite familiar with the comic series. What DID surprise readers was the fact that they actually liked what they saw. Voters gave the film an average grade of A-, much higher than the critic’s average score of C. And some 81 percent of voters said the film was far better than they had expected.

More than anything, fans of ”X-Men” worried that director Bryan Singer’s (”The Usual Suspects”) interpretation would be unfaithful to the comic book’s legacy. (Marvel Studios prez Avi Arad says that he even got death threats on the Internet from some dangerously avid ”X-Men” readers during the film’s production.) But from the looks of EW.com’s poll, those fears were unfounded. Some 73 percent said that they would return to theaters to see ”X-Men” again, and 84 percent want to recommend it to others. Such figures must have Fox execs — who plan to make at least two more ”X-Men” flicks — envisioning a highly evolved era of box office ticket sales. Looks like the comic book’s assembly of outcasts, and those who love them, have finally been embraced by the mainstream.

To vote on these and other current movies, visit our Critical Mass Movie Poll.