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‘Charlie’ wows weekend crowd

David Germain Associated Press

Willy Wonka gave moviegoers their sugar fix for the weekend.

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” starring Johnny Depp as candyman Wonka, had a sweet debut of $55.4 million, helping Hollywood make a dent in a box-office downturn that has lingered most of the year.

Opening as a solid No. 2 was Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn’s comedy “Wedding Crashers,” which took in $32.2 million, according to studio estimates.

The previous weekend’s No. 1 flick, “Fantastic Four,” finished in third place with $22.7 million, lifting its 10-day total to $100.1 million.

Overall business was up solidly, the second straight weekend Hollywood revenues rose after a slump that had lasted since late February.

After a slight uptick at the box office the previous weekend, the top 12 movies took in $151.4 million, a rise of 7.5 percent from the same weekend last year, when “I, Robot” premiered as the No. 1 movie.

“People are just waiting for the right kinds of movies to come along, and they will show up in big numbers,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.

Director Tim Burton’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is the second adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book, following Gene Wilder’s 1971 version “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

For Depp, whose earlier collaborations with Burton include “Edward Scissorhands” and “Ed Wood,” “Charlie” marked his biggest opening ever, surpassing the $46.6 million debut for his 2003 blockbuster “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.”

The movie received high marks from critics for Burton’s fanciful visuals and Depp’s quirky rendition of the antisocial Wonka, backed by a roster that includes Freddie Highmore, Helena Bonham Carter, Noah Taylor and James Fox.

While “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” locked up the family audience, the R-rated “Wedding Crashers” gave adult crowds a dose of raunchier humor. The movie stars Wilson and Vaughn as men who crash strangers’ weddings to pick up women.

Distributor New Line had briefly mulled whether to tone the movie down to a PG-13 rating, but test audiences gave the racy film a thumbs up, said Russell Schwartz, the studio’s head of marketing.

“There’s been such a move toward more sanitized movies, so I think the R rating actually helped,” Schwartz said.

“And it’s not a hard R. I think it of more as a soft R. It’s a movie that wears the R on its sleeve very proudly.”

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