Paramount's 'Iron,' 'Skull' make the month

Despite economic woes and tough comparisons with last year, the May box office stayed competitive with previous years and managed to create a new film franchise in “Iron Man.”

Through Memorial Day, box office revenues totaled roughly $780 million, with “Iron Man’s” boffo perf contributing a hearty $258.3 million, followed by “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” at $151.9 million and Disney’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” at $97.8 million.

Both “Iron Man” and “Crystal Skull” are distributed by Paramount, putting the studio far in the lead in terms of market share with 51.9% through Memorial Day, which this year fell on May 26.

Heading into the month, studios were nervous about starting the summer without titan franchises “Spider-Man,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Shrek,” which combined to give Hollywood its best May on record last year at $855.2 million through Memorial Day.

Studio honchos knew that no matter what the outcome, the strength of May 2007 would make year-over-year comparisons tough. The question was whether May 2008 — which was down 9% from a year earlier — would match up with other recent years. It did.

The May box office came in ahead of the month through Memorial Day in 2006 ($751.1 million) and 2005 ($725.7 million) but trailed slightly behind 2004 ($784.3 million).

“We did consistent business overall, and May remains one of the great all-time places to release movies,” one studio distribution topper said. “It began with firepower (‘Iron Man’) and ended with firepower (‘Indiana Jones’).”

Figures don’t include grosses from New Line and Warner Bros.’ “Sex and the City,” which opened the first weekend after Memorial Day on May 30 to a boffo $57 million.

Internationally, the major Hollywood studios were able to surpass May 2007 box office revs. According to one studio’s estimates, May was up as much as 6% over last year.

That’s not to say there haven’t been disappointments or bumps in the road.

Warner’s expensive gamble on the Wachowski brothers’ foray into the family film biz didn’t pay off, as “Speed Racer” failed to muster much speed at either the domestic or international box office. Produced by Joel Silver, pic has grossed $40.9 million domestically and $33.8 million internationally to date.

Disney sequel “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” wasn’t able to match the opening number of the first “Narnia” pic ($62 million) when debuting to $55 million on May 16, but the movie was still the third-highest grossing film in May through Memorial Day behind “Iron Man” and “Crystal Skull.”

One key difference: The first “Narnia” film opened in December.

Tallying box office revenues for the full month, May 2008 box office revs clocked in at $948 million, the highest since 2003. In both years, the final weekend of May bled into June and the first post-Memorial Day releases.

This year, the May 30-June 1 frame saw the release of “Sex and the City,” as well as the stronger-than-expected opening of Universal and Rogue Pictures’ horror title “The Strangers” ($20.9 million). “Sex the City’s” performance was enough to boost Warner Bros.’ market share standing to No. 3 for the full month behind Paramount and Disney, which were Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, for the May 1-31 stretch.

(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)

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