'Superman' soars with strong opening day

“Superman Returns” had a strong takeoff domestically and overseas, though it didn’t fly into the stratosphere.

Warner. Bros.’ restart of the superhero franchise took in $21 million domestically at 3,915 playdates on Wednesday, in line with studio expectations and virtually even with the $21.3 million Paramount drew from “War of the Worlds” last year on its opening Wednesday before July 4.

Figures include Tuesday 10 p.m. shows, which sources indicated accounted for about $4 million of the total, though the studio would not confirm that. WB justified including the previous night’s opening shows, which essentially gave the film 26 hours of play for one day, by noting that the two-hour, 37-minute running time meant there would be few midnight shows on a Tuesday.

In four foreign markets, “Superman Returns” grossed $1.3 million on 548 prints in three markets Wednesday, comfortably taking first place in the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand.

On Thursday, pic opened to $919,000 at 407 playdates in Australia, also about even with “War of the Worlds.” Other opening markets Thursday, for which grosses weren’t available, included Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Singapore and Taiwan.

Domestically, “Superman Returns” saw the eighth-biggest opening Wednesday ever. (Two years ago, “Spider-Man 2″ set a record with its $40.4 million debut.) “Superman” came in comfortably ahead of the opening Wednesday for WB’s previous effort to re-start a franchise, “Batman Begins,” which took $15 million its first day in June 2005 and went on to cume $205 million.

The only near-record overseas was in the Philippines, where the $408,000 gross at 81 theaters was market’s second biggest ever.

Stateside, males made up 58% of the opening-day auds. Tracking indicates pic was lagging with women, but WB is hoping that men were more likely to come out the first day and women will prove more interested as the weekend wears on. Auds were virtually split between those over and under 25.

Seventy-six Imax screens accounted for $1.17 million, giving the 3-D version of the film an awesome $15,400-per-play average in just one day.

After bowing to $21.3 million, “War of the Worlds” went on to make $112.7 million by Monday, July 4. With an extra day until the holiday this year, Warner is hoping “Superman” will soar past that figure by the end of its long “weekend,” which is essentially seven days.

Only fresh competition will be “The Devil Wears Prada,” which Fox sends down the runway at 2,846 theaters today. Female-oriented counterprogramming has traditionally done poorly when opening against tentpoles, but “Prada” is tracking relatively well with women, and Fox is looking for a gross in the mid-teens for the three-day weekend and likely over $20 million by Tuesday.

That will probably put the Meryl Streep starrer in third or fourth place, behind the second frame of Sony’s “Click” and close to the fourth weekend for Disney-Pixar’s “Cars.”

Warner has decided to wait until the World Cup ends July 9 to go outside Asia and Australia with “Superman Returns.” It will launch in mid-July in Brazil, France, Mexico and the U.K.; it will wait until mid-August to open in Germany and Japan.

In other foreign activity this weekend, studios continue to counterprogram the World Cup in targeted markets. BVI is expanding “Cars” into Argentina, Brazil, Japan, Mexico and Portugal; Warner is launching “Poseidon” in Scandinavia; Fox bows “Just My Luck” in the U.K. and Russia; and UIP is launching “Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” in Mexico, Russia and Sweden and “Over the Hedge” in Hong Kong and the U.K.

The relative dearth of new competition means Sony’s “The Da Vinci Code” will continue to pull in significant grosses. “Code” chalked up $1.9 million on Wednesday, becoming the 12th pic to top $500 million in foreign box office, joining “Titanic,” “Jurassic Park,” “Finding Nemo,” “Independence Day,” the four “Harry Potter” pics and the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

Worldwide cume for “Code” has surpassed $707 million, with 71% of that coming from foreign markets.

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