WB's super confident in 'Superman Returns'

Just how high will Superman soar?

Warner Bros. is going into the Fourth of July frame with America’s most iconic character in one of the year’s most hyped films.

What’s more, it’s backed by largely positive reviews and opening on perhaps the best date any studio has had in years: the Wednesday before a Tuesday holiday — essentially giving “Superman Returns” a seven-day weekend.

The only potential complications: a two-hour, 37-minute running time and significantly lower, albeit still solid, interest among women. Female tracking for “Superman Returns” is about on par with that for Fox’s counterprogrammer “The Devil Wears Prada,” which opens Friday.

With its first summer tentpole, “Poseidon,” missing at home and doing moderate business overseas, Warner could use a hit to prop up its tentpole strategy. The studio spent more than $200 million on “Superman Returns,” which it co-financed with Legendary, on top of $40 million in prior development costs.

WB is aiming to ignite a franchise to join “Harry Potter” and the one it hopes it launched with “Batman Begins.” Given its higher cost and lighter tone, “Superman Returns” should be able to beat the latter pic’s $205 million cume last year.

However, it doesn’t look likely to fly into the stratosphere of movie openings, such as 2004′s Fourth of July smash “Spider-Man 2,” which made $40.4 million on its Wednesday opening day and got to $180 million by Monday, July 4.

Warners is looking for an opening closer to that of last year’s “War of the Worlds.” Like “Superman Returns,” that Steven Spielberg film was heavily hyped but not a sequel to a recent hit. Paramount’s Tom Cruise starrer grossed $21.3 million its opening day and cumed just over $112.7 million by Monday, July 4.

“Superman” should bow at least as well today and, with an extra day on its calendar, blast past $112 million by July 4.

Pic started playing with 10 p.m. shows around the country. Reports indicate shows in major cities were sold out as of early afternoon.

Online ticketers Fandango and MovieTickets.com reported strong but not record-breaking sales. MovieTickets said it was selling about four times as many tickets for “Superman Returns” as it was last year the day before “War of the Worlds” bowed.

Movie bows at 3,915 theaters and expands to 4,065 on Friday. It will play on 76 Imax screens in 3-D, which many think will prove particularly popular and should boost the gross thanks to higher ticket prices.

“We’re in good shape, and we have the primo date of the summer with a very long weekend ahead of us,” declared Warner Bros. distribution prexy Dan Fellman. “Now it’s up to the movie gods.”

As with all modern tentpoles, Warner is counting on a big foreign performance. WB prexy of international distribution Veronika Kwan-Rubinek said “Superman Returns” would normally be an obvious candidate for a global day-and-date release, but studio will instead slowly roll out the pic’s 8,500 prints overseas due to the World Cup.

Openings this week include eight Asian territories and Australia. The following weekend will see openings in Egypt, Hungary and South Africa, in advance of the World Cup final on July 9. The key international launch will begin three days later in France and Spain, followed by openings that weekend in Brazil, Mexico and the U.K.

Germany and Japan won’t get the pic until mid-August, and it will launch in Italy in September.

Domestically and overseas, the biggest question for “Superman Returns” may not be how big it opens but how well it can hold. Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” opens next week, and tracking indicates it could be the biggest pic of the year, with a potentially record-breaking opening.

Sony Pictures Classics also opens doc “Who Killed the Electric Car?” Wednesday at five theaters, while ThinkFilm bows the “Strangers With Candy” movie at two playdates in Gotham.

(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)

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