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Austin Powers Scores at Box Office

June 14, 1999

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Austin Powers is absolutely swinging, baby.

``Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me,″ the James Bond spoof sequel starring Mike Myers as the sexually charged man of mystery, took in $54.7 million over the weekend, making more in its first three days than the original movie did in its entire run.

That knocked the latest ``Star Wars″ installment out of first place and accorded unlikely blockbuster status to a concept that started out as an in-joke Myers thought few people would get.

Now, everywhere you turn, somebody is trying to do his best Austin Powers imitation, imposing a bad English accent on his buzzwords: ``Oh, behave!″ and ``Yeah, baby! Yeah!″

``We’re stunned, it’s almost surreal,″ said Mike Deluca, president of production at New Line Cinema, the film’s distributor. ``I think in a weird way the culture caught up with it.″

The original, ``Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery,″ tested poorly and opened to a tepid $9.5 million in May 1997. People just didn’t seem to understand the humor about a ’60s spy with bad teeth, a bearskin rug of a chest and an infatuation with sex.

Myers said the idea was inspired by his late father, a Liverpool-born salesman who loved British comedy, from Peter Sellers to Monty Python.

``You would have had to have grown up in my house to get it,″ Myers said before the film opened.

But audiences warmed up to Austin’s humor, and the $16 million-budget film hung on through the summer to gross $53.9 million and turn a profit.

Then it went to video, where it was _ as Austin would say _ smashing. The tape dominated the 1998 video charts, with $44 million in sales. It spawned Austin theme parties in colleges and homes, and set the groundwork for the sequel, with double the budget.

New Line also raised expectations with trailers that poked fun at the hype around ``The Phantom Menace.″ Featuring Dr. Evil, also played by Myers, the ads tell moviegoers that if they see just one film this summer, go to ``Star Wars;″ but if they see two films, check out ``Austin Powers 2.″

Then the studio launched a huge _ and risque _ promotional push, using carefully selected marketing partners that adopted Myers’ peculiar brand of double-entendre-laced humor.

One Virgin Atlantic Airways billboard had Austin beaming, ``Five times a day? Yeah, baby!″ to promote the airline’s five daily flights to London. Or a Heineken commercial had a masseuse admiring Austin’s Heiney _ his beer, that is.

By the time it opened, audiences were feeling shagadelic.

``Mike Meyers is a genius. He’s one of the funniest comedians I’ve ever seen,″ said Mike Rosenkrantz, a machinist from Chesapeake, Va., who called in sick from work Monday to catch a matinee in Norfolk.

The sequel sends Austin back to 1969 to reclaim his stolen mojo _ or libido _ from Dr. Evil. Along the way, Austin falls for the sexy female spy Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham).

``Good sequel. It fit right in with the previews,″ said David English, 22, a North Carolina State University student, outside a theater in Raleigh. ``I enjoyed the last one. I just thought it was a great comedy.″

The film became the top-opening comedy (beating last year’s ``The Waterboy,″ which debuted with $39.4 million); the top June opener (beating ``Batman Forever″ with $52.7 million in 1995) and the No. 2 non-holiday weekend opener (behind only ``The Phantom Menace″ with $64.8 million last month). Numbers are not adjusted for inflation.

``It’s a little bit of a `Rocky Horror Picture Show’ thing on a larger scale,″ said director Jay Roach, who saw people lined up for ``Austin 2″ dressed as their favorite characters. ``It’s Mike’s spirit of joy and his love of this music and this culture, this color and movement. People young and old want to share it with him, and that’s his genius.″

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