LOS ANGELES -- George Clooney's ''The Perfect Storm'' blew Mel Gibson out of the water at the box office over the weekend.
The movie, based on the true story of a fishing crew battling a behemoth tempest, took in $41.7 million to debut at No. 1 at the weekend box office, according to studio estimates Sunday.
The movie's gross almost doubled that of Mel Gibson's Revolutionary War spectacle ''The Patriot,'' which took in $21.7 million Friday to Sunday to finish at No. 2. The animated adventure ''Chicken Run,'' featuring Gibson's voice, came in at No. 3 with $12.8 million.
The weekend's other big release, ''The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle,'' opened to a disappointing $6.6 million for fifth place.
The overall box office was good news for Hollywood. After three slumping weekends that put the industry behind last summer's record revenues, the top 12 films this weekend grossed $121.8 million, up 5.3 percent over the same period in 1999.
There also was a prospect that for the five-day weekend through Tuesday, the industry could approach the $198.3 million Fourth of July record set in 1996, when ''Independence Day'' opened.
With three big movies premiering, the Fourth of July had been viewed as the pivotal weekend for Hollywood's summer season, when studios rake in about 40 percent of their revenue.
As late as last week, industry observers figured the box-office crown would be a tossup between ''The Perfect Storm'' and ''The Patriot.''
''I'm surprised by the disparity between the grosses for 'Perfect Storm' and 'Patriot,''' said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, which tracks movie-ticket sales. ''I didn't think there would be that wide of a gap.''
''The Patriot'' may have been hurt by its R rating and two-hour, 40-minute running time, half an hour longer than ''The Perfect Storm,'' rated PG-13. As a period piece, ''The Patriot'' also had a tough battle against the digital wizardry that created the striking wave action in ''The Perfect Storm.''
''It was a really cutting-edge effort,'' said Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros., which released ''The Perfect Storm.'' ''It was the first time anyone's been able to generate those kinds of effects on water.''
Co-starring Mark Wahlberg and Diane Lane, ''The Perfect Storm'' was the third-highest grossing movie ever to open over Fourth of July weekend, behind ''Men in Black'' and ''Independence Day,'' which debuted with about $50 million each.
'''Perfect Storm' is the more traditional Fourth of July, big special-effects roller-coaster ride,'' said Dean Devlin, a producer of ''The Patriot.'' ''I'm just happy we weathered the storm. I was really worried they would wipe us out.''
''The Patriot'' broke a stigma in Hollywood that movie-goers aren't interested in the American Revolution, Devlin said. The last such film, Al Pacino's ''Revolution,'' was a flop in 1985.
''I don't think people are sitting around saying they can't wait for the next movie about the American Revolution,'' Devlin said. ''But I definitely think we have broken that curse.''
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