Marvel hero takes in $96.8 million

“Iron Man” forged B.O. gold in its overseas debut, ruling foreign multiplexes with a $96.8 million take from 7,500 playdates in 57 international markets.

Marvel’s tentpole, handled by Paramount in most territories, came in well above expectations to dominate everywhere. It collected $10.3 million in the U.K., $9.6 million in Mexico, $7.5 million in South Korea, $7.1 million in France, $6.2 million in Spain and $6 million in Brazil.

The massive opening nearly tripled the previous top foreign launch for the year, “10,000 BC,” and marked the biggest international frame since “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” conjured up $193 million last July.

The socko debut for “Iron Man” also kickstarts the summer tentpole season overseas. Warner Bros.’ “Speed Racer” will look to keep the momentum going next weekend, to be followed by “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” launching over the following two frames.

The offshore numbers for “Iron Man” are particularly impressive since the character hadn’t been established internationally prior to the pic’s marketing blitz. Rivals believe the film could tally $300 million outside the United States, given that openings generally matched launches of “Spider-Man” (which finished with $418 million overseas) and “Transformers” ($382 million) and easily topped the debuts of “X-Men” ($138 million) and “Fantastic Four” ($175 million).

The $10.3 million Brit opening for “Iron Man” came in 4% higher than “Spider-Man,” 9% behind “Transformers,” 26% ahead of “X-Men” and 45% above “Fantastic Four.” In Mexico, where the Wednesday opening was the biggest ever for that market, “Iron Man” finished 8% behind “Spider-Man,” 42% ahead of “Transformers,” 34% ahead of “Fantastic Four” and 179% ahead of “X-Men.”

In South Korea, where local pics often dominate, the $7.5 million “Iron Man” launch represented the biggest opening of 2008 and more than double the “Spider-Man” debut. French and Spanish debuts were 20% and 3% behind “Spider-Man,” respectively, but Brazil topped the Spidey launch by 53%.

The only downbeat news came from Germany with $3.6 million, trailing “Spider-Man” by 59% in a market where distribs have often noted that superhero pics are a tricky sell. TeleMunchen handled as Paramount passed on acquiring the Teuton market.

With final figures due out today, “Iron Man” could see its opening-weekend gross elevated past $100 million. Only 10 pics have ever debuted above that number (led by last May’s $251 million launch of “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”) but only two of those 10 weren’t sequels — “The Da Vinci Code” and “War of the Worlds.”

As for the rest of the weekend’s openers, Jackie Chan-Jet Li actioner “Forbidden Kingdom” appeared to be the likely leader with a rough estimate of $8 million from soph seshes in Asian markets after easily winning the previous frame with $18.6 million.

Sony scored a slice of counter-programming coin with its day-and-date launch of “Made of Honor, which bagged $6.5 million from 1,335 in 21 markets. “Made” opened in second in Mexico with $1.6 million and took in $1.5 million each in Australia and the U.K.

Warner’s “Fool’s Gold” also tapped romantic comedy fans for $4.7 million at 1,669 in 40 markets, including a mild French launch of $358,000 at 135. Sony’s “21” drew $4.1 million at 1,555 for a cume of $37.7 million.

Universal’s “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” charmed its way to $4 million at 1,000 in nine markets, mostly from a $2.7 million second frame in the U.K. as it nearly doubled the “Made of Honor” launch. “Nim’s Island” took in $3.8 million at 1,854 for U and Summit, with half of that coming from the pic’s British opening.

Fox’s family fave “Horton Hears a Who!” also grabbed $3.8 million at 1,776, including $1.1 million in its Korean launch. The toon’s been the best foreign performer among U.S. titles over the past month with a $131.7 million international cume.

Fox’s “Street Kings” fired up $3 million at 2,274 for a $25 million foreign cume, and Par’s “The Spiderwick Chronicles” chipped in $2.1 million at 2,310 to lift its international take to $85 million — $14 million ahead of the domestic total.

Warner Bros.’ “10,000 BC” took in $1.7 million at 1,300 to lift its offshore cume to $169 million, the top foreign figure among U.S. releases this year. “Iron Man” will likely surpass that number over the next two weeks.

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