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'Goblet of Fire' conjures up big box office lead

LOS ANGELES -- The bespectacled boy wizard has worked his biggest box-office magic to date.

''Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" grossed $101.4 million in its debut weekend, the best results yet for the franchise, according to studio estimates released yesterday.

The latest Potter movie led a lineup that helped reverse the Hollywood box-office slump, with the top 12 films raking in $171 million, up 19 percent from the same weekend last year, when ''National Treasure" was No. 1 with $35.1 million.

''Goblet of Fire" was the fourth-best three-day opening weekend ever, behind ''Spider-Man" at $114.8 million in 2002 and ''Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith" and ''Shrek 2," at $108 million apiece.

The fourth installment of the adventures of Harry and his curious classmates at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is the first Potter film to earn a PG-13 rating for its fantasy violence and special effects. But that did not deter audiences.

''The Potter franchise is just irresistible to moviegoers," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.

Debuting in second place was the Johnny Cash biopic ''Walk the Line," which took in $22.4 million. The film chronicles the early musical career of Cash, played by Joaquin Phoenix, and also stars Reese Witherspoon as Cash's lifelong love, June Carter. Phoenix and Witherspoon do their own singing.

Disney's computer-animated film ''Chicken Little," which held the top spot last week, slipped to No. 3 with $14.8 million. Jennifer Aniston's thriller ''Derailed" ranked fourth with $6.5 million, and the sci-fi fantasy ''Zathura: A Space Adventure" rounded out the top five with $5.1 million.

Based on the best-selling books by J.K. Rowling, ''Goblet of Fire" follows 14-year-old Harry, who unwillingly competes against three older wizards in a dangerous Triwizard Tournament. The movie features a dramatic face-off between Harry and Lord Voldemort -- He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named -- the dark wizard who killed Harry's parents and who tried to kill him when he was a baby.

Dan Fellman, head of distribution at Warner Bros., which released ''Goblet of Fire," said the results exceeded the studio's expectations. The third Potter film, ''Prisoner of Azkaban," premiered last year at $93.7 million.

''As the audience has gotten older in time, faithful readers of the Potter books will remain faithful to the movies," Fellman said.

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