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The man in tights was strong, but the devil in couture was positively super.

Superman Returns returned $52.1 million over the first three days of the extended Fourth of July holiday weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday, easily soaring into the top spot at the box office.

That was respectable business for the PG-13 Warner Bros. release, but not nearly heroic enough to challenge Sony's downright amazing Spider-Man II, which netted a record $88.1 million its opening weekend in 2004.

And in a masterstroke of counterprogramming, The Devil Wears Prada strutted into multiplexes with a $27 million in its Friday-Sunday debut, exceeding its distributors' forecasts.

The two newcomers' big pre-Independence Day business accounted for the bulk of ticket sales--nearly 60 percent total--and led the overall box office to its seventh straight up weekend over the same period last year. All told, the top 12 films grossed more than $140 million, 8 percent above last weekend and 5 percent over the same weekend in 2005, when another of Warners' revived superhero franchises, Batman Begins, pulled in the July 4 crowds.

If estimates hold up this will be the fourth best Fourth of July weekend, with the Spider-Man II-powered 2004 remaining the most super with $158 million. (Final figures for the five-day holiday weekend will be released Wednesday.)

As for the Man of Steel, Warners crammed him into extreme wide release--4,065 theaters--where Supes and crew averaged $12,829 per screen, best among the Top 10.

After nearly a decade of torturous development and a reported $200 million price tag (not counting marketing costs or fees from earlier scuttled Superman projects), Superman Returns marks the first big-screen outing of Clark Kent and his more-powerful-than-a-locomotive alter ego since the franchise got kryptonited after Superman IV: The Quest for Peace in 1987 ended the title role run of the late Christopher Reeve. With newbie Brandon Routh filling out the underwear, Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane, Kevin Spacey as Lex Luther and Bryan Singer helming, Superman Returns opened to generally favorable reviews on Wednesday and has now racked up $84 million in five days, touted as the largest five-day opening in Warners' history.

The studio also took as a positive sign that Superman's latest movie managed to top Batman's, which pulled in $48.7 million over its three-day opening weekend and wound up grossing $205 million domestically. Warners now projects Superman Returns, which is reportedly playing particularly well at IMAX theaters able to showcase 3-D sequences, will hit $110 million by the time backyard barbecues turn to ashes on Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, Fox's PG-13 The Devil Wears Prada, the screen adaptation of Lauren Weisberger's roman à clef about the back-biting world of fashion publishing starring Meryl Streep as the formidable magazine editor and Anne Hathaway as the naive assistant, was tailored to 2,847 sites, where it averaged $9,484. And that had the Fox suits fired up.

"Way beyond our expectations" exclaimed a delighted Bruce Snyder, distribution chief for Fox. "We were thinking something in the mid-teens." The audience, 79 percent female and 61 percent 25 and over, reportedly "loved the movie," and the feeling is that "more men will go" as the response to female reports of "a really good time" take hold.

While last week's number flick, Adam Sandler's Click, dropped 52 percent to third with $19.4 million (its two-week total is $77.9 million), the 'tooned-up vehicles of Cars continued to chug along, falling only 40 percent to fourth with $14 million (its four-week haul is $182 million).

In limited release, the Sony Pictures Classics documentary Who Killed the Electric Car unspooled on just eight sites and averaged $5,534 over the Friday-Sunday period for $44,269. The eco-friendly film has generated $57,675 since debuting on Wednesday.

Doing even better in even more limited release--at just two Manhattan theaters--was Strangers with Candy. ThinkFilm's adaptation of the cult hit Comedy Central series averaged $22,250 for a three-day total of $44,500.

Here's a rundown of the Top 10 films from Friday to Sunday, based on preliminary estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:

1. Superman Returns, $52.1 million.
2. The Devil Wears Prada, $27 million
3. Click, $19.4 million
4. Cars, $14 million
5. Nacho Libre, $6.1 million
6. The Lake House, $4.5 million
7. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, $4.4 million
8. Waist Deep, $3.3 million
9. The Break Up, $2.8 million
10. The Da Vinci Code, $2.3 million