Will ''Star Wars'' set a new attendance record? ''Spider-Man'' and Hugh Grant's ''About a Boy'' are all that stand in the way of huge numbers for ''Attack of the Clones''
Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, ...
Credit: Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones: © & TM Lucasfilm, Ltd.

Heard that new nursery rhyme yet? ”The superhero spider had much box office clout/Out came the ‘Clones’ and washed the spider out…”

After accounting for as much as 75 percent of ticket sales and grossing an unheard-of $240 million in its first two weeks, ”Spider-Man” will finally relinquish the throne to another ridiculously anticipated blockbuster-to-be, ”Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones,” which got a head start on the weekend by opening on Thursday (at 12:01 a.m. in many theaters).

This we know for sure. What’s not certain is exactly how much ”Episode II” will earn in its first weekend. Comparisons to ”Spider-Man”’s $114.8 million debut will certainly be made. But are they fair?

Yes, both films are crowd pleasers with rabid fan bases. But the circumstances of their releases are quite different. Two weeks ago, ”Spider-Man” came out with virtually no competition and on more than 7,000 movie screens. ”Star Wars,” on the other hand, will probably only reach 6,000 screens because of a more crowded marketplace and director George Lucas’ demand that the film be projected with digital sound wherever possible.

Three years ago, ”The Phantom Menace” grossed $105.7 million in its Wednesday-to-Sunday debut (its three-day weekend total was $64.8 million). ”Clones” should see a $85 million weekend, which, added to a $35 million Thursday, should amount to a $120 million opening. But compared to ”Spider-Man”’s $126 million haul in its first four days, ”Clones” could fall just short.

As for ”Spider-Man,” its small 38 percent dip from weekend one to weekend two bodes well for another good hold. A 40 percent drop from last week’s $71.4 million would mean another $43 million for Tobey Maguire and Co., bringing its total to more than $280 million.

The week’s other big debut is Hugh Grant’s romantic comedy ”About a Boy,” based on the popular Nick Hornby book about a sworn bachelor who can’t help falling in love with a sexy single mom (”The Mummy”’s Rachel Weisz). Grant’s ”Notting Hill” opened the same month as ”Phantom Menace” in 1999 and premiered with $21.8 million. But ”Boy” is only playing in about 1,200 theaters. (Plus, it doesn’t feature ”Notting” costar Julia Roberts.) All this should result in a $12 million debut and the No. 3 spot.

Last week’s two new entries will fill out the top five. Richard Gere and Diane Lane’s drama ”Unfaithful” will hold nicely from its $14.1 million opening, falling 35 percent to $9 million, while the teen comedy ”The New Guy” stands to plummet 50 percent to about $5 million. For a new guy, he’s getting pretty old.

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About a Boy
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