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`X-MEN' SEQUEL SHOCKS BOX OFFICE.

Byline: GREG HERNANDEZ Staff Writer

``X-Men: The Last Stand'' achieved a heroic $45.5 million in ticket sales during its first day in theaters Friday, the second-highest opening-day gross in history, according to estimates Saturday.

Such a stupendous debut now gives the movie a realistic shot at the Holy Grail of box office records: the three-day opening of $114.8 million achieved by ``Spider-Man'' in 2002. The 20th Century Fox release is also in position to set a Memorial Day weekend record by surpassing the $95.6 million earned by ``Shrek 2'' during its second weekend in 2004.

``This is the biggest box office surprise of the year,'' said Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations Co. ``We knew this film was going to have a tremendous opening weekend, but a single day over $45 million is going to take this movie into uncharted box office territory.''

The ``X-Men'' trilogy of films is an action-adventure series about mutant heroes sworn to defend a world that hates and fears them. It is based on the popular Marvel Comics franchise.

Its opening-day take finished behind only ``Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith,'' which set the opening-day record a year ago with $50 million.

To claim second place, ``X-Men: The Last Stand'' achieved bigger first-day numbers than such heavy hitters as ``Spider-Man 2'' ($40.4 million), ``Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire'' ($40.1 million) and ``Spider-Man'' ($39.4 million).

Based on such a blockbuster opening day, ``X-Men'' is a lock to set the record for Memorial Day weekend openings, which is currently held by ``The Lost World: Jurassic Park,'' which took in $90.1 million when it bowed in 1997.

``X-Men: The Last Stand,'' directed by Brett Ratner, stars Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart.

The first-day gross of $45.5 million comes close to the $54 million the first ``X-Men'' film earned during its entire first weekend in July 2000. ``X2: X-Men United,'' released in early May 2003, had an opening weekend of $85.5 million.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 28, 2006
Words:345
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