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Monday, February 12, 2007

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Movie fans couldn't pass up three Eddie Murphys for the price of one. Murphy's comedy "Norbit," in which he plays three wildly different roles, opened as the top weekend movie with $33.7 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.

Murphy had not had a starring role in a movie since 2003's "The Haunted Mansion" but "Norbit" benefited from huge acclaim and publicity he has received for "Dreamgirls," for which he is expected to win the supporting-actor Academy Award.

"He wasn't that visible on marquees in huge hits for a while, then suddenly every time you turn around, it's `Wow, what a surprise. Eddie is great,'" said DreamWorks spokesman Marvin Levy.

But while it was the year's biggest opening so far, "Norbit" was not able to lift Hollywood out of its box-office funk that has seen revenues fall for six straight weekends. The top 12 movies took in $91.3 million, down 10.5 percent from the same weekend in 2006, when "The Pink Panther" and "Final Destination 3" both debuted in the $20 million range.

"Norbit" was the 14th No. 1 opening for Murphy and came in well above the expectations of distributor Paramount, which had projected the movie might pull in about $25 million over its opening weekend.

The movie was trashed by critics, but the lure of Murphy again handling multiple roles as he did in "Coming to America" and "The Nutty Professor" proved irresistible. Murphy plays mild-mannered Norbit, his grossly overweight and overbearing wife and a Chinese orphanage owner who raised him.