'Austin Powers' strikes gold with latest installment

— The new Austin Powers epic had a smashing debut, baby, raking in $71.5 million to set an opening record for a comedy.

"Austin Powers in Goldmember" kicked the Tom Hanks hit-man drama "Road to Perdition" into second place at the box office, according to industry estimates Sunday.

"Austin Powers," the third tale of the bell-bottomed superspy, had the fifth-best opening ever for any movie. "Spider-Man" still tops the list with its $114.8 million May opening.

"For the third installment of a series to do this well is really quite unprecedented," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "Usually after two, especially with comedies, the concept loses its luster."

"Austin Powers" also earned $3.5 million during Thursday night previews, pushing the four-day total to $75 million.

The previous opening record for a comedy was set last year by New Line's "Rush Hour II," which took in $67.4 million.

The only other major new movie this weekend was Disney's "The Country Bears," which debuted in sixth place with $5.2 million.

A popular concept, strong marketing and a comedy shortage this summer helped propel "Austin Powers in Goldmember," said Rolf Mittweg of New Line, which released the spy spoof.

"The characters are deeply rooted in American pop culture. They are likable characters, and Mike Myers is at the top of his game," Mittweg said. "And there aren't too many comedies out this summer."

The Austin Powers franchise actually seemed to gain strength. The third installment grossed more in its opening weekend than the original earned during its entire North American run in 1997.

The overall box office was down, however. The top 12 movies grossed $133.2 million from Friday through Sunday, down 7.1 percent from the same weekend last year.

The box office is expected to look up this weekend with the highly anticipated release of "Signs," the Mel Gibson movie about an alien invasion.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc.:

1. "Austin Powers in Goldmember," $71.5 million.

2. "Road To Perdition," $11 million.

3. "Stuart Little 2," $10,7 million.

4 "Men In Black II," $8.7

5. "K-19: The Widowmaker," $7.3 million.

6. "The Country Bears," $5.2 million.

7. "Mr. Deeds, "$4.2 million.

8. "Reign of Fire," $3.3 million.

9. "Minority Report," $3.1 million

10. "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," $3 million.

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