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'Fantastic Four' Breaks Hollywood Slump

The latest superhero movie may have been just fantastic enough to snap Hollywood's longest modern losing streak at the box office.

The comic-book adaptation "Fantastic Four" (search) raked in $56 million during its first three days, apparently helping to end a swoon in which domestic movie revenues had been down 19 weekends in a row compared to last year's.

The top 12 films took in $141 million, up 2.25 percent from the same weekend in 2004, according to industry estimates Sunday. Numbers often drop slightly when studios release final figures Monday, but this past weekend still should come in ahead of last year's, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations (search).

"It took four superheroes to end this slump, and Hollywood is grateful," Dergarabedian said. "Comic-book movies, if properly marketed, are exactly what mainstream audiences want to see in their summer movies."

The movie bumped the previous weekend's top film, "War of the Worlds," (search) into second place with $31.3 million. "War of the Worlds" raised its 12-day domestic total to $165.8 million.

"Fantastic Four" 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.

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.

If Sunday's estimate holds, it would come in ahead of 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.

While Hollywood appeared to have ended its downturn of 19-straight weekends, 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 Dukes of Hazzard."

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.

1. "Fantastic Four," $56 million.

2. "War of the Worlds," $31.3 million.

3. "Batman Begins," $10.2 million.

4. "Dark Water," $10.1 million.

5. "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," $7.85 million.

6. "Herbie: Fully Loaded," $6.3 million.

7. "Bewitched," $5.5 million.

8. "Madagascar," $4.3 million.

9. "Rebound," $2.9 million.

10. "Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith," $2.6 million.