LUMA PICTURES

Tentpole likely to earn north of $160 million Stateside this frame

Joining the global enthusiasm, American auds are helping “Iron Man 3″ soar this weekend with a healthy $68.3 million start on Friday.

Friday’s gross includes the $15.6 million the pic picked up in late Thursday night screenings, and adds to  $388.3 million in int’l coin for a worldwide cume of $456.6 million.

Disney-Marvel’s actioner is now expected to exceed pre-weekend estimates that had it earning $150 million in three days, but it appears less likely to hit a potential upside that pegged it closer to “The Avengers’” record-shattering $207.4 million opening.

Shy of “Avengers’” impressive opening day of $80.8 million, the real wild card that surprised observers when “Avengers” opened last year was family turnout, which accounted for the strong returns on Saturday and Sunday that elevated the actioner to such great heights. It’s a notoriously difficult demographic to predict, and its love for Tony Stark will be the deciding factor behind how high “Iron Man 3″ flies.

If it earns the now-projected gross just north of $160 million, it will become the third all-time highest domestic opening  between “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2″ ($169.2 million) and “The Dark Knight Rises” ($160.9 million).

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