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‘Fantastic Four’ comes to rescue

David Germain Associated Press

It looks like the latest superhero movie was just fantastic enough to snap Hollywood’s longest modern losing streak at the box office.

The comic-book adaptation “Fantastic Four” raked in $56 million during its opening weekend, apparently helping to end a swoon in which domestic movie revenues had been down 19 weekends in a row compared to last year.

The top 12 films took in $141 million, up 2.25 percent from the same weekend in 2004, according to industry estimates.

“It took four superheroes to end this slump, and Hollywood is grateful,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations

“Comic-book movies, if properly marketed, are exactly what mainstream audiences want to see in their summer movies,” he added.

“Fantastic Four” bumped the previous weekend’s top film, “War of the Worlds,” into second place with $31.3 million. “War of the Worlds” raised its 12-day domestic total to $165.8 million.

The thriller “Dark Water,” starring Jennifer Connelly, opened a distant third with $10.1 million.

Based on the Marvel Comics series that debuted in the early 1960s, “Fantastic Four” stars Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Michael Chiklis and Chris Evans as astronauts who gain superpowers after exposure to a cosmic storm.

It far surpassed industry projections of an opening weekend of $40 million or less. 20th Century Fox, which released the film, had expected a debut “in the high 30s,” said Bruce Snyder, the studio’s head of distribution.

The $56 million haul topped the opening weekend of fellow Marvel adaptation “X-Men,” which debuted in 2000 with $54.5 million.

Marvel’s first “Spider-Man” movie had a record opening weekend of $114.8 million in 2002.

Unlike the well-reviewed “Spider-Man” and “X-Men” films, “Fantastic Four” overcame a drubbing by critics, with some calling it a lightweight tale with a sitcom tone.

According to the survey site rottentomatoes.com, only 27 percent of the nation’s film reviewers gave the movie a thumbs up.

“I don’t think reviewers reflect audiences anymore,” said Hutch Parker, head of production for 20th Century Fox.

“They don’t seem to understand that sometimes audiences are just looking for a popcorn film.”

The film’s omnipresent marketing campaign – which included tie-ins with the National Basketball Association and more than 60 merchandisers – made it clear that “Fantastic Four” would not be one of the brooding, dark films that have been a trademark of summer.

“I think people had burned out on intensity” with gloomy blockbusters “Star Wars,” “Batman Begins” and “War of the Worlds,” Parker said.

“I went from theater to theater and saw people coming out smiling,” said Marvel Studios chief Avi Arad.

“It had been too long this summer since we had a summer action movie that was over the top but fun.”

Though the streak may be over, movie revenues remain in the doldrums.

Revenues this year are running 7 percent behind last year’s, and factoring in higher ticket prices, admissions are off 10 percent.

Revenues may continue to sag in the coming weeks compared to this time last year, when such hits as “I, Robot,” “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Village” had huge opening weekends in July and early August.

Johnny Depp and Tim Burton’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is expected to do big business this weekend.

Other movies coming this month and next include the remake “The Bad News Bears,” the action films “The Island” and “Stealth,” the comedy “Wedding Crashers” and the big-screen version of “The Dukes of Hazzard.”

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