LOS ANGELES – Disney was rolling in doubloons as “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” plundered the box office for $46.4 million in its first weekend.

Based on the Disney theme-park attraction, the movie starring Johnny Depp had taken in $70.4 million since opening Wednesday, according to studio estimates Sunday.

Debuting in second place was Sean Connery’s literary superhero adventure “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” which had a $23.25 million opening weekend. Connery stars as Victorian-era adventurer Allan Quatermain leading a team of characters lifted from literature, including Dorian Gray, Capt. Nemo and Dr. Jekyll.

“Pirates of the Caribbean” commandeered the box-office lead from the previous weekend’s No. 1 flick, “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” which fell to third place with $19.6 million. “Terminator 3” pushed its 12-day total to $110.5 million.

Overall box-office revenues were up slightly, ending a string of four down weekends. The top 12 movies grossed $140 million, up 3.5 percent from the same weekend last year.

For the year, Hollywood receipts are running about 5 percent behind 2002 revenues.

“Finding Nemo,” the year’s top-grossing movie, was No. 5 for the weekend with $8.2 million, lifting its total to $290.8 million.

The surreal fairy tale “Northfork” debuted strongly in limited release, taking in $61,000 at five theaters. From sibling filmmakers Mark and Michael Polish, “Northfork” stars Nick Nolte, James Woods and Daryl Hannah in the story of locals who refuse to evacuate their town to make way for a hydroelectric dam.

“Pirates of the Caribbean” stars Depp as a rascally pirate on a quest to retrieve his stolen ship from his first mate (Geoffrey Rush) and a crew of cursed mutineers who turn into skeletons in moonlight.

Produced by blockbuster baron Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Gore Verbinski, the well-reviewed “Pirates” offered elaborate stunts and visual effects for the action crowd and a classy cast that elevated it above the usual summer popcorn picture.

A staple in Errol Flynn’s days, pirate movies had fallen on hard times in Hollywood with such modern bombs as “Cutthroat Island” and “Treasure Planet.”

“Everybody had said pirate movies were cursed. The curse is officially over,” said Chuck Viane, Disney head of distribution.

Disney bombed with its previous theme-park adaptation, last summer’s “The Country Bears.” But with the success of “Pirates,” audiences skeptical about seeing movies based on Disney attractions might be a bit more primed for the next one, this fall’s “The Haunted Mansion,” starring Eddie Murphy.

The studio is running trailers for “The Haunted Mansion” before “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc., with final figures to be released Monday:

1. “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” $46.4 million.

2. “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” $23.25 million.

3. “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” $19.6 million.

4. “Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde,” $12 million.

5. “Finding Nemo,” $8.2 million.

6. “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle,” $7.3 million.

7. “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas,” $4.6 million.

8. “28 Days Later,” $4.25 million.

9. “The Hulk,” $3.7 million.

10. “The Italian Job,” $2.8 million.

AP-ES-07-13-03 1325EDT



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