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Monday, May 24, 1999 Published at 11:05 GMT 12:05 UK


The Force fills the cinemas

One of the first showings of The Phantom Menace in California

The long-awaited Star Wars prequel is the first film to earn more than $100m in its first five days of release - but the Force was not enough to break all records at the US box office.

Star Wars
Since it opened on Wednesday, Episode I: The Phantom Menace has taken a record $102.8m at screens across the United States and Canada, according to advance figures.

But some analysts predicted it would take up to $140m, and it fell short of taking the record for its opening weekend - grossing $61.8m, against the $72.1m The Lost World: Jurassic Park took on its first Friday, Saturday and Sunday in 1997.

The Phantom Menace did, however, set the highest single-day and opening-day grosses - taking $28.5m on Wednesday - and it only took five days to make $100m, as opposed to six for The Lost World. It also took a record $20,819 from each cinema.

The Lost World opened over the Memorial Day holiday weekend in 1997, a US holiday which takes place next week.

'No rush to break records'

[ image: Fans queued for weeks for tickets to the first showings]
Fans queued for weeks for tickets to the first showings
Twentieth Century Fox's head of US distribution, Tom Sherak, claimed the studio wasn't determined to break all records with the film, which stars Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor.

"If we wanted to set the record we would have released the picture next week," he said.

"This wasn't about the records. This picture would have set any early record it wanted to set. It was never planned like that."

He added fans may have been scared away by the reports of long queues.

"This is exactly what we were worried about. Our concern is that people think they can't get in, but they can. There are tickets."

Paul Dergarbedian, whose Exhibitor Relations company tracks box office trends, said many people's expectations of The Phantom Menace were unrealistic.

"These are terrific numbers. But the bar has been raised. At one time these numbers would be considered unbelievable or not even imaginable," he said.

Film also a female favourite

[ image: One of the movie's stars: Yoda]
One of the movie's stars: Yoda
According to exit polls conducted on Saturday, females are making up 41% of The Phantom Menace's audience - higher than the studio had expected.

The film also nearly wiped out the week's only other new release, romantic comedy The Love Letter, starring Kate Capshaw, Ellen DeGeneres and Tom Selleck, which only took $2.6m from Friday to Sunday.

The Mummy, starring Brendan Fraser, John Hannah and Rachel Weisz took £13.1m. Entrapment, starring Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta Jones took $5.8m, while Keanu Reeves' The Matrix earned $2.7m, according to advance figures from Exhibitor Relations.

Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts' film Notting Hill clearly faces tough competition when it opens in the US as well as across the UK on Friday.

Star Wars - Episode I: The Phantom Menace opens in the UK on 16 July.

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