Summer tentpole nabs $201 million worldwide

Paramount and Marvel Studios’ summer tentpole “Iron Man” mined enough in its box office debut to join the pantheon of all-time highest openers, grossing an estimated $104.2 million domestically and $96.8 million internationally for a worldwide cume of $201 million in its first five days.

Hollywood couldn’t wish for a better way to start summer 2008 than with the launch of a new film franchise, considering the lack of titan sequels that gave the film biz its best summer on record last year at the domestic B.O. –a blessing and a curse, since comparisons will be tough.

“Iron Man,” directed by Jon Favreau and toplining Robert Downey Jr., grossed an estimated $100.7 million from 4,105 theaters for the weekend and $3.5 million more in Thursday night previews. That is the second-best opening ever for a non-sequel after Sony and Marvel’s “Spider-Man,” which opened to $114.8 million on the same weekend in 2002, and the 10th best opening of all time, according to Rentrak.

It’s also the best opening ever for a Paramount live-action release, although the studio is only distributing and marketing “Iron Man” per its output deal with the reorganized Marvel Studios in the post-Avi Arad era. (Arad remains a producer on “Iron Man.”)

Tentpole’s opening performance is a resounding victory for Marvel, which is trying to claim more ownership by fully developing, producing and finance their movies. “Iron Man” is the first title out of the gate, to be followed later this summer by “The Hulk,” which Universal is releasing.

“I couldn’t imagine a better blast off for our new Marvel Studios than this,” said Marvel Studios chair David Maisel. “The Marvel brand is beloved. People know it stands for a summer, family-friendly action movie. And we had fantastic casting.”

Marvel Studios relied on its $525 million line of credit with Merrill Lynch to finance “Iron Man,” which cost $130 million to produce and has an easy shot at soaring past the $200 million mark domestically. After Paramount recoups its marketing costs and distribution fee, the rest of the money will go to Marvel.

Weekend was down nearly 13% from the same weekend in 2007, when “Spider-Man 3” kicked off the summer with $151.1 weekend gross, the highest on record, according to Media by Numbers.

There was some question as to whether “Iron Man,” which drew an A Cinemascore, could lure women. Film’s gross revealed it succeeded, although it still skewed heavily male. Of the audience, 62% were men.

That left some room for Sony to capture the attention of older women with Patrick Dempsey-Michelle Monaghan romantic comedy “Made of Honor,” which opened to an estimated $15.5 million from 2,729 runs to place No. 2 for the weekend. Of the audience, 68% were female, while 62% were over the age of 25. Pic got a B+ Cinemascore.

Sony prexy of domestic distribution Rory Bruer said the opening number of “Made of Honor” was good, considering there was a picture in the marketplace that bowed at more than $100 million.

“I feel good about the start, and I think we’ll end up with a good multiple,” Bruer said. “Let’s face it, ‘Iron Man’ ended up getting most everybody.”

“Made of Honor” joined an already crowded field for female-skewing titles. Universal holdover “Baby Mama” held well in its second frame, declining 41% to an estimated $10.3 million from 2,548 runs to place No. 3 for the frame. Cume is $33.2 million.

U also claimed the No. 4 spot on the B.O. chart with raunchy romantic comedy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” which declined 44% in its third frame to an estimated $6.1 million from 2,872 for a cume of $44.8 million.

Twentieth Century Fox used the weekend to sneak peek Cameron Diaz-Ashton Kutcher comedy “What Happens in Vegas” before it opens May 9.

Fox senior VP of distribution Bert Livingston said the 300 or so shows at 10 p.m. Saturday were “all solid,” and that the film should stand apart from the other comedies already in the market. “Comedy is king, and we are desperately trying to grab the attention of young men,” Livingston said.

“Iron Man,” however, will remain a force to reckon with. Also opening May 9 is Warner Bros.’ PG-rated “Speed Racer.”

Like the first “Spider-Man,” “Iron Man” drew rave reviews, particularly for Downey’s performance as Tony Stark. Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges and Terrence Howard co-star. Strong notices paid off, with 57% of the audience over the age of 25.

“When there is a movie that feels like real entertainment and it’s really made well, and that people can go see with their kids, everybody shows up,” Paramount prexy of worldwide marketing and distribution Rob Moore said.

“Robert Downey is someone everyone has known as a spectacular actor. Combine his great talent with this great Marvel character, and look what it’s yielded,” Moore continued. “Downey isn’t your normal, bulked up superhero. He’s someone everyone can relate to.”

It was Marvel Studios prexy of production Kevin Feige who arranged the deal for Downey to board and play the part of Marvel comicbook character Tony Stark. Downey was last seen on the bigscreen exactly a year ago in Warner Bros.’ gambling drama “Lucky You,” which opened to a paltry $2.7 million the same frame in 2007 and cumed just $5.7 million domestically.

“Iron Man” also gives Favreau (“Elf”) his first big-budget actioner win.

Smaller titles

Among specialty openers, Sony Pictures Classics’ mixed-martial arts drama “Redbelt,” from David Mamet, grossed an estimated $68,646 from six theaters in Gotham and L.A. for a per- screen average of $11,441.

Paramount Vantage’s dramedy “Son of Rambow” debuted at an estimated $52,549 from five runs in Gotham and New York for a per-screen average of $10,510.

“Fugitive Pieces,” from Samuel Goldwyn, grossed an estimated $108,000 from 30 runs for a per-screen average of $3,600.

Overture’s holdover “The Visitor” continued to expand, grossing an estimated $663,000 from 130 runs for a per-screen average of $5,100 and a cume of $1.6 million in its fourth frame.

ThinkFilm’s “Then She Found Me” grossed an estimated $221,705 in its second frame from 53 theaters for a per-screen average $4,183 and cume of $316,366 in its second frame.

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