Paramount and Marvel expect strong opening

Paramount and Marvel Studios’ “Iron Man” is looking like an ironclad winner as summer gets under way at the worldwide box office.

The tentpole, toplining Robert Downey Jr. as Marvel comicbook superhero Tony Stark, got an early start on the weekend by opening in 4,105 theaters Thursday night at 8 p.m. On the foreign front, “Iron Man” will dominate as it moves into virtually every major territory.

Par has a good shot at shooting past the $62 million opening for Universal and Marvel’s “Hulk” in June 2003. That would provide a much-needed jolt for the domestic film biz and rep the second-best opening for a nonsequel after “Spider-Man,” which opened to $114.8 million on the same weekend in 2002.

An ode to advanced weaponry and the birth of an unlikely superhero, “Iron Man” is tracking like gangbusters with men and boys and has picked up strength among older women in recent days. Younger women is the only demo that isn’t tracking quite so well.

That’s good news for Sony’s broad romantic comedy “Made of Honor,” which opens in 2,729 runs. Film starring Patrick Dempsey and Michelle Monaghan is showing strength among both younger and older females.

Whether “Made of Honor” has enough of a last-minute bump in tracking to give it a shot at bowing bigger than “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” ($17.7 million) did two weeks ago and “Baby Mama” ($17.4 million) last weekend remains to be seen.

Like “Baby Mama,” “Made of Honor” has the advantage of a PG-13 rating, while “Sarah Marshall” is rated R.

There’s plenty of competish for female eyeballs. Twentieth Century Fox has decided to sneak its upcoming Cameron Diaz-Ashton Kutcher comedy “What Happens in Vegas” in roughly 309 theaters Saturday night at 10 p.m. in top markets. “Vegas” opens May 9.

On the specialty side, Paramount Vantage goes out with feel-good dramedy “Son of Rambow” in five theaters. Sony Pictures Classics opens David Mamet’s mixed-martial arts action-drama “Redbelt” in six theaters in Gotham and L.A. Samuel Goldwyn bows “Fugitive Pieces” in 11 in those same two markets.

The arrival of “Iron Man” is a defining moment for Marvel Studios. Film was entirely financed produced by Marvel, with Paramount distributing.

“It is going to ignite the marketplace,” one rival distribution topper said. “The only thing that stops it from being a $100 million opening is some softness among younger females. That could even change, though.”

Critics are enthusiastically embracing “Iron Man,” particularly for Downey’s performance. Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard and Jeff Bridges also star.

Jon Favreau directed the pic, which is based on the comicstrip created by Stan Lee in 1963 about a boozy weapons heir who gets serious about fighting evil and develops an iron suit after he’s kidnapped in Vietnam by communists.

The film is set in modern-day Afghanistan, with tribal warlords and Middle Eastern terrorists swapped in as the enemy. Script was penned by two sets of writers: Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, and Art Marcum and Matt Holloway.

If it works, “Iron Man” is a likely franchise for Par, just as last summer’s “Transformers” turned out to be.

Overseas, Par’s handling most but not all markets for “Iron Man.” Sony’s handling Japan and Spain, SND has rights in France and Telemunchen has Germany and is releasing through Concorde.

Wednesday openings generated about $8 million in 21 markets, led by $1.9 million in Mexico, $1 million in South Korea and $810,000 in Germany.

International auds have been strong supporters of superhero fare. Sony racked up a massive foreign opening frame a year ago from “Spider-Man 3″ with a then-record $232 million for its six-day launch, surpassed three weeks later by “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” with $251 million.

“Iron Man” should energize foreign biz, which will see robust results for the rest of the month from day-and-date launches for Warner Bros.’ “Speed Racer” next weekend, followed by Disney’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” on the third frame and Par’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” on the fourth.

“Made of Honor” will likely generate some counterprogramming coin in foreign markets this weekend with day-and-date launches in Australia, Mexico, Russia and the U.K. Holdover biz from Jet Li-Jackie Chan starrer “Forbidden Kingdom” should be significant after an impressive performance last weekend with $18.6 million in Asian markets.

Fox’s “Horton Hears a Who!” goes into China and South Korea with $125 million already banked from overseas markets and the worldwide cume nearing $275 million. “Fool’s Gold” will open in France, and “Nim’s Island” launches in the U.K.

(Dave McNary contributed to this article.)

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