Reboot turns in $120 million at global B.O.

Pushing the B.O. needle another click closer to 2010 totals, 20th Century Fox’s “X-Men: First Class,” with its estimated $56 million bow, contributed significantly to the summer’s fourth consecutive year-on-year weekend improvement.

Total domestic box office grew this weekend 27% over the same frame in 2009. Now, year-to-date grosses trail 2010 by just 6% vs. a 16% deficit going into summer.

Fox matched its forecast this weekend with “First Class” bowing at 3,641 domestic playdates. Pic improved on the $54.5 million domestic launch for the first “X-Men” installment (but that was back in 2000), as well as Warner Bros.’ super hero reboot “Batman Begins,” which earned $48.7 million during its opening Friday-to-Sunday time frame (though that pic bowed on a Wednesday in 2005.)

Some bizzers, however, thought “First Class” should have made more, especially since it had the weekend to itself. Before its opening, B.O. pundits had projected the pic would bow north of $60 million vs. Fox’s expectations around the high-$40 million mark, based on comparable bows for “X-Men” and “Batman Begins.” Either way, “First Class” impressed enough overseas with its estimated $64 million, making it the franchise’s second-best opener behind “The Last Stand,” the third pic in the franchise.

“It’s a huge challenge to take an existing and revered franchise and re-brand it,” said Fox distribution exec Chris Aronson. “The bottom line is the film excelled in re-launching the franchise.”

“First Class” handily won Stateside, beating soph sesh players “The Hangover Part II” and “Kung Fu Panda 2.” Both holdovers were coming off a record-setting Memorial Day weekend, looking to transfer some of that heat into repeat mode.

Coming in at No. 2, Warner’s “Hangover II” dropped a considerable 62% for an estimated $32.4 million; that’s compared to the film’s three-day bow of $85.9 million, much like the opening of “Fast Five,” which also fell 62% in its second frame and is the year’s first film to cross $200 million domestically. “Hangover II” so far has grossed a whopping $186.9 million in just 11 days.

Meanwhile, the weekend’s third-place pic, “Panda 2,” from Paramount and DreamWorks Animation, crossed the $100 million mark in Stateside grosses through Sunday.

Not surprisingly, as family-driven pics typically display top-notch staying power, “Panda 2″ held better than “Hangover II” in its first post-Memorial Day frame, down 49%, with an estimated $24.3 million. The toon, however, dropped considerably more than “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Shrek Forever After,” both of which fell between 37%-39% in their second outings.

Overseas, “Hangover II” collected an estimated $62 million, bringing its international cume to $151.5 million, while “Panda 2″ added $40 million to is foreign tally of $125 million.

Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” was the weekend’s overseas winner, edging out “First Class” with an estimated weekend take of $69.4 million, crossing the total $600 million mark internationally.

Fox’s risky reboot?

“First Class” jumpstarted its Stateside run with a solid $3.375 million in midnight grosses, besting fellow Marvel property “Thor,” which scored $3.25 million from late-night earnings. That pic went on to gross $65.7 million during its opening weekend — making it a reasonable benchmark for “First Class,” considering both pics were either launching (or re-imagining) a popular comicbook series.

But “First Class” didn’t benefit from 3D or Imax, both of which boosted opening grosses for “Thor.”

In fact, “Thor” earned 10% of its opening, $6.6 million, from Imax, with an additional 50% from 3D screens that lifted opening numbers based on more expensive premium ticket prices.

“First Class,” the fifth “X-Men” installment, faced more of an uphill battle this time around without familiar faces like Hugh Jackman or Halle Berry. Instead, Fox’s fresh take on the franchise featured James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as younger versions of characters, Professor X and Magneto, respectively.

Fox’s Aronson said, “We took a critically acclaimed director (Matthew Vaughn, “Kick-Ass”), and we started over with a group of incredibly talented actors, but who aren’t household names yet.”

Pic ultimately scored an overall B+ CinemaScore rating, but received a better appraisal (A-) with auds under 25, who accounted for 56% of the opening gross. Men had a slight edge this weekend, with 58%.

Fox said it expects critics’ approval and strong word of mouth will propel the film forward in the coming weeks. “First Class” was budgeted for significantly less than its predecessors (a reported $135 million), which also alleviates some of the pressure from opening weekend.

Summer specialty mix

Focus Features’ “Beginners” tallied a strong per-screen average of $27,038 from five locations in New York and L.A., which puts the film on track to hit (or even exceed) Focus’ hopeful mark set for the film. “Beginners” collected an overall estimated $135,193 this weekend.

The Weinstein Co.’s Brit coming-of-age comedy “Submarine” averaged $10,189 from four debut locations for an estimated weekend total of $40,754.

Continuing to build steady arthouse steam, Fox Searchlight’s “The Tree of Life” and Sony Pictures Classics’ “Midnight in Paris” had successful U.S. expansions. “Tree,” which has cumed $1.3 million in two weeks, broadened to 20 locations, up from four, while “Midnight” added 89 engagements for a total 147 in its third frame, cuming $6.9 million.

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