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Austin Powers Has The Force

Swinging spy Austin Powers has blasted Star Wars from the top of the US box office charts, according to early estimates.

Mike Myers' comic film Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me opened with $54.7m - knocking Star Wars: The Phantom Menace's 25.4m into outer space.

But the even though the sci-fi prequel was no match for Austin Powers over the weekend, it has now made 300m at the box office in just four weeks on release.

The Spy Who Shagged Me has made more in its first three days than the original, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, made in its entire run at US cinemas, astonishing studio executives.

"A hunger for comedy"

The film about the 1960s British spy, frozen in time until the 1990s, is also the top-opening comedy, the highest-grossing film ever to open in June, and the second most popular film ever to open over a non-holiday weekend.

Distributors New Line Cinema thought they were in for a hit as soon as they saw sales of the original film pick up on video.

"There seemed to be a hunger for comedy," said distribution head Al Shapiro.

The success has rewarded New Line for taking a risk on the original film - which confused audiences during test screenings in 1997. It took just $9.5m on its first weekend, and netted $53.9m over its whole run, making a profit because it cost a mere $16m to make.

But it picked up when it was released on video, becoming the top seller in the US in 1998.

Inspired by Myers' father

Myers, who has said he is stunned by Austin Powers' success, said he based the character on his comedy-loving father, who was born in Liverpool. He adored comedians like Benny Hill and the Monty Python team.

He said: "I'm honoured. I thought it was the consummate in-house joke - you would have had to have grown up in my house to get it."

Chris Myers died in 1991, and never saw his son become a Hollywood star. At the time, Myers took 18 months off to read, play guitar and visit family in the UK. It was then that Austin Powers was born, when he was reminded of his father by a song he heard on the radio.

He said: "I started talking just like Austin, and I was saying to my wife, 'Do I make you horny, baby? Do I?' It just came out like that."

The film opens in the UK on 30 July.

Meanwhile, Notting Hill is still performing strongly in the US, coming third at the box office with $11.2m, according to the advance figures from Exhibitor Relations Inc.

June 14, 1999

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