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`MENACE' POSTING HEAVENLY FIGURES AT U.S. BOX OFFICE.

Byline: Dave McNary Daily News Staff Writer

The Force will clearly be with moviegoers for several more months at the nation's multiplexes, where it continues to dominate business and break records.

``Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace'' showed impressive staying power with an amazing $64.8 million at 3,023 theaters during the Friday through Memorial Day holiday weekend, pushing its 13-day total to $205 million, studio sources said Monday.

The four-day total, which matched last weekend's Friday to Sunday take, made ``Phantom Menace'' the 24th highest domestic grosser ever as it edged past ``Terminator 2: Judgment Day.''

``These are great numbers,'' declared Tom Sherak, 20th Century Fox's distribution chief. ``There was beautiful weather everywhere, so we think we did very well this weekend.''

Sherak said the audiences have been 59 percent male with many children being accompanied by their fathers. He added it's likely that many adults have delayed seeing ``Phantom Menace,'' the fourth installment in George Lucas' saga, until the long lines become shorter.

Movie analyst Arthur Rockwell agreed that ``Phantom Menace'' should continue to perform well, noting that many theaters have booked the movie for eight weeks. ``I think there are a lot of moviegoers who want to see it but feel like there's still no rush,'' he said. ``The word of mouth has been very good, and theater owners who booked it are breathing a sigh of relief.''

With moviegoing expected to continue at a scorching pace during June as schools let out, ``Phantom Menace'' has a clear shot at becoming one of the top three movies ever. ``Titanic's'' $600.8 million domestic gross is likely to remain out of reach but the $460.9 million taken in by the original ``Star Wars'' and the $399.8 million for ``E.T. - The Extraterrestrial'' could be topped.

On Monday, ``Phantom Menace'' broke the 3-year-old record set by ``Independence Day'' for fewest days needed to pass $200 million by eight days. It took in $13.3 million on Friday, $18.8 million on Saturday, $18.2 million on Sunday and a projected $14.5 million on Monday. It so dominated the box office that the combined total of the next nine films fell $2 million short of matching the four-day take even with an impressive $27.8 million opening for Universal's ``Notting Hill'' at 2,745 theaters.

Prospects for the well-reviewed romantic comedy, starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant, also appear strong with the studio reporting that 76 percent of those surveyed would ``definitely recommend'' the movie, far above industry averages.

Universal also posted solid results for its fourth weekend of ``The Mummy'' in third place with $12.7 million at 3,399 theaters, pushing it past $117 million to 125th on the all-time list over ``The Towering Inferno.'' Fox's fifth weekend of ``Entrapment'' followed with $6.3 million at 2,754 sites to go past $68 million overall.

The weekend's major disappointment came from Sony's opening of virtual-reality thriller ``The Thirteenth Floor'' in fifth place with a feeble $4.3 million at 1,815 theaters.

Final results for the Friday-Monday period will be released today.

SPEEDY FORCE

``Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace'' broke the record for fewest days to cross the $200 million mark on Monday. The six fastest films:

1.``Phantom Menace,'' Fox, May 19, 1999, 13 days

2. ``Independence Day,'' Fox, July 2, 1996, 21 days

3. ``Jurassic Park,'' Universal, June 11, 1993, 23 days

4. ``Titanic,'' Paramount, Dec. 19, 1997, 25 days

5. ``Men In Black,'' Sony, July 2, 1997, 30 days

6. ``The Lost World,'' Universal, May 23, 1997, 30 days

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BOX: SPEEDY FORCE (See text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Jun 1, 1999
Words:609
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