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‘Star Wars’ breaks box office records

Alicia Chang Associated Press

Moviegoers turned out in full force for the final chapter of the “Star Wars” saga, which took in $158.5 million over the weekend to shatter three-day and four-day box office records.

“Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith” grossed $124.7 million from Thursday to Saturday, according to studio estimates. That’s higher than the three-day record set by the first “Spider-Man,” which took in $114.8 million after opening on a Friday in May 2002.

However, the “Star Wars” film had a lower Friday-Sunday take than “Spider-Man,” at $108.5 million.

“Revenge of the Sith” rang in a whopping $50 million on its opening Thursday, a single-day record boosted by eagerly anticipated midnight showings. Its total receipts through Sunday beat the four-day $134.3 million opening of 2003’s “The Matrix Reloaded.”

The George Lucas film has also grossed $144.7 million overseas for a total of $303 million worldwide.

“It’s a very strong start to what will hopefully be a very strong summer,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracker Exhibitor Relations.

Even so, overall ticket sales were down 6 percent from the same weekend last year – the 13th straight weekend that receipts have lagged behind last year’s pace.

” ‘Star Wars’ hit a home run, but we need other movies up there hitting triples and doubles if we’re going to catch up,” said Dergarabedian

The Adam Sandler-Chris Rock remake of “The Longest Yard” and the animated zoo tale “Madagascar” open Friday for Memorial Day weekend, traditionally one of the busiest movie viewing times of the year.

But “Star Wars” could remain at the top of the box office despite the competition.

“I think we have a shot to be No. 1 next week even with two giant pictures coming out,” said Bruce Snyder, president of domestic distribution at Twentieth Century Fox.

It had little competition this past weekend. The previous weekend’s box office champ, “Monster-in-Law,” which marked Jane Fonda’s return to the big screen as Jennifer Lopez’s villainous prospective mother-in-law, slipped to a distant second with $14.4 million. The Will Ferrell soccer comedy “Kicking & Screaming” took in $10.5 million to finish third.

The third and final installment in the “Star Wars” prequel trilogy chronicles the transformation of the heroic Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker into the villainous Darth Vader.

Considered by critics to be the most entertaining of the prequel trilogy, it easily outperformed “Episode I – The Phantom Menace” and “Episode II – Attack of the Clones,” which grossed $64.8 million and $80 million, respectively, in their opening weekends.

Studio exit surveys showed the audience – usually dominated by men for sci-fi films – was 58 percent male and 42 percent female, with nearly half the viewers under age 25, Snyder said.

“Revenge of the Sith” is the first “Star Wars” film to earn a PG-13 rating. The first five films were rated PG.

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