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‘Hitch’ debut puts Will Smith on top

Scott Bowles USA Today

Move over, Mike Myers. Will Smith is Hollywood’s new king.

With the surprisingly big opening over the weekend of his romantic comedy “Hitch,” Smith has become the most bankable star in the industry.

The film raked in an estimated $45.3 million, making it the biggest romantic comedy opening ever, according to box office trackers Nielsen EDI.

It was the fifth straight No. 1 movie debut for Smith, following “Shark Tale,” “I, Robot,” “Bad Boys II” and “Men in Black II.” Those all opened in the $46 million to $52 million range.

Smith’s movies now average $34.3 million on their opening weekend, higher than any other star who has been in the business a decade or longer, according to industry tracker

“Hitch” pulled him ahead of Myers, whose films average $34.1 million. Jim Carrey averages $26.7 million an opening, while George Clooney averages $21.6 million, and Adam Sandler takes in about $19.9 million a debut.

“Whether it’s an action film or a romantic comedy, there’s no movie (Smith) can’t open,” says Rory Bruer, distribution chief for Sony Pictures, which released “Hitch.” “He’s one of the few stars that appeals to every type of audience.”

“Hitch” stars Smith as a Manhattan “date doctor” who helps hopeless men win the hearts of their dream women but has romantic troubles when he meets his own soul mate (Eva Mendes).

Though it lacks the spectacle of his other movies, such as “Independence Day” and “Men in Black,” “Hitch” may be Smith’s crowning achievement as a star, says Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations.

“This was Will in a whole new light, in a genre that can be tough,” he says. “He’s had his mark in TV, music and movies. He’s a true triple threat.”

The previous weekend’s top movie, the horror tale “Boogeyman,” fell to second place with $10.8 million, lifting its 10-day total to $33.3 million.

The weekend’s other new wide release, the animated family tale “Pooh’s Heffalump Movie,” opened at No. 5 with $6 million.

Three key contenders for the Feb. 27 Academy Awards remained in the top 10. The boxing drama “Million Dollar Baby” was No. 4 with $7.6 million, raising its total domestic gross to $45.1 million.

The buddy tale “Sideways” took in $4.75 million to finish in eighth place, lifting its total to $53.1 million. The Howard Hughes epic “The Aviator” was ninth with $4.6 million, pushing its domestic haul to $82.3 million.

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