$106 mil hero’s welcome

'Superman' flies as 'Devil' gets its due

“Superman Returns” is off to a strong start, albeit not as fast as a speeding bullet.

Warner Bros. superhero tentpole grossed a solid $52.5 million on its opening weekend and $74 million over the five-day Fourth of July frame. Since its Wednesday opening, the Bryan Singer-helmed franchise restart has taken in $106 million.

Though the Man of Steel dominated the frame, “The Devil Wears Prada” was the biggest surprise. Fox’s chick lit adaptation proved very successful counterprogramming, grossing $27 million for the weekend and $39.6 million over five days — far beyond expectations.

Based on the weekend alone, “Superman” was on the low end of recent nonsequel superhero pics, ahead of WB’s own “Batman Begins” last year but behind “Spider-Man,” “Hulk,” “Fantastic Four” and “X-Men,” which Singer directed in 2000.

But the prime opening date, which essentially created a seven-day weekend, worked in the studio’s favor. The $106 million “Superman” cume bests all those films except “Spider-Man” at the end of their first week.

No matter how one measures, however, “Superman” did fail to keep up with last year’s Fourth of July opener, “War of the Worlds.” The pics’ Wednesday debuts were virtually identical at $21 million. But “Superman” slowed down faster, making less in its first seven days than the $112.7 million that Paramount’s Tom Cruise starrer grossed in six.

The $220 million “Superman Returns” is a very pricey bet for Warners, which is hoping to restart the franchise. Assuming it holds in a manner similar to “Batman Begins,” a cume in the low 200s looks likely. Foreign performance will be crucial.

While auds tilted male, WB distrib prexy Dan Fellman pointed out that “Superman” did better with families than darker films like “Batman” and “Worlds,” which meant latenight shows were less crowded over the weekend.

That could help extend its run throughout the rest of the summer, as family films tend to hold well. Pic is almost certain to take a big hit next weekend, though, against the bow of “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.”

“Superman” set a record on Imax screens, where a 3-D version grossed $3 million over the weekend and $5 million Wednesday through Sunday, beating the “Batman Begins” record of $3 million over five days.

Meanwhile, adult women came out en masse for “The Devil Wears Prada,” which grossed much more than comparable chick lit adaptations such as “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” which bowed to $10.7 million in 2001. It’s the best ever No. 2 showing on a July 4 frame and the second highest ever gross for a counterprogrammer aimed at women that bowed against a summer tentpole, behind only “America’s Sweethearts,” which made $30.2 million against the opening of “Jurassic Park III” in 2001.

“Some of the more sophisticated theaters sold out by 7, but it played well in small towns too,” noted Fox distribution prexy Bruce Snyder.

Last weekend’s No. 1 pic, “Click,” fell 50%, slightly more than such recent Adam Sandler comedies as “The Longest Yard,” “50 First Dates” and “Anger Management.” Weekend take was $20 million, five-day gross was $29 million and cume is $77.9 million, behind “Yard” but ahead of “Dates” and “Anger.”

In limited release, ThinkFilm’s “Strangers With Candy” adaptation did a strong $43,141 at two theaters in New York over the weekend, averaging $22,250. Five-day take for the Amy Sedaris-Stephen Colbert starrer was $69,200, and cume since its Wednesday bow is $97,300.

Indie plans to expand the pic to 21 theaters in the top 10 markets this weekend and around 100 on July 14, coinciding with a promotion on Comedy Central, where the “Strangers With Candy” series originally aired.

Sony Pictures Classics opened docu “Who Killed the Electric Car?” at eight theaters, grossing a so-so $45,117, or $5,640 per play. Five-day gross was $70,803, and cume since its Wednesday opening is $84,191.

“Wordplay” more than doubled its print count to 95 but saw its weekend gross drop 4% to about $313,000. Per play average was just $3,295, indicating IFC and the Weinstein Co.’s crossword puzzle docu likely won’t expand much further. Five-day take was $476,564, and cume is just over $1 million, solid for a documentary.

Lionsgate docu “Leonard Cohen I’m Your Man” expanded from one to seven playdates and averaged $6,286 over the weekend, grossing $44,000 in three days, $77,000 in five, bringing its total take to $115,730.

Based on initial estimates, overall weekend was up 6% from a year ago, as solid perfs for “Prada,” “Click” and “Cars” made up for “Superman’s” shortfall compared with “War of the Worlds.” Summer 2006 is now up 1% compared with summer 2005, while year-to-date 2006 box office is 3% ahead of 2005, according to Nielsen EDI.

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