‘Wolverine’ claws to top of box office

Prequel nabs record bow for Fox with $87 mil

Scoring an important win for the franchise, 20th Century Fox’s prequel “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” grossed an estimated $87 million from 4,099 runs to mark the studio’s best-ever non-holiday bow at the domestic box office.

Kicking off the summer tentpole season, “Wolverine” also displayed sharp claws overseas as it grossed $73 million from more than 9,100 runs in 101 markets for a worldwide opening of $160 million. In many individual markets, “Wolverine” saw the best numbers of any film in the franchise.

Domestically, “Wolverine” scored the second-best domestic bow after “X Men: The Last Stand,” which opened to $102.8 million over Memorial Day weekend in 2006. “Last Stand” and “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” which grossed $108.4 million over Memorial Day weekend in 2005, are Fox’s two highest openers.

In other domestic B.O. action, enough females showed up to give Warner Bros. and New Line’s romantic comedy “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” a solid opening gross of $15.3 million from 3,175 screens, mirroring the $14.8 million bow of Sony’s “Made of Honor” on the same weekend a year ago.

Roadside Attraction’s 3-D toon “The Battle for Terra,” however, wasn’t able to make the cut. Family film grossed an estimated $1.1 million from 1,159 runs to come in No. 12.

Domestic B.O. revenues were essentially flat with the same frame a year ago, when Paramount’s “Iron Man” opened to $102.1 million. The ability to keep pace with last year is attributed to the new entries and a steely crop of holdovers.

Sony’s “Obsessed” fell 57% in its second frame, but still pulled in $12.2 million for a cume of $47 million in its first 10 days. Warner Bros./New Line’s “17 Again” followed “Obsessed” with a gross of $6.4 million in its third weekend for a cume of $48.5 million. DreamWorks Animation/Paramount’s “Monsters vs. Aliens” fell just 32% in its sixth sesh to $5.8 million for a domestic cume of $182.4 million.

“Wolverine’s” bow is a key victory for Fox, Marvel Entertainment and star Hugh Jackman, since it likely keeps the franchise alive.

Fox senior VP of distribution Chris Aronson called Jackman the “X-factor.”

“Audiences have a huge appetite for Hugh Jackman, for the character Wolverine, and the Wolverine that Hugh has created,” Aronson said. “Almost half of the moviegoers polled said the film was better than expected.”

Film, directed by Gavin Hood, also played more broadly than some box office observers had expected. Women made up 47% of the audience, and generally gave the film a higher score than men. Film drew a slightly older audience, with 52% over the age of 25.

“Wolverine” declined 15% from Friday to Saturday, a relatively small decline compared to other fanboy-driven films.

“Wolverine” wasn’t able to match the opening gross of “Iron Man” because the latter drew a younger audience.

Fox co-financed “Wolverine” with Dune Entertainment. Pic cost $130 million to produce after Australian tax credits, meaning the film’s worldwide bow has exceeded the budget. That doesn’t include a hefty marketing spend for the worldwide launch.

“Wolverine” all but matched the $76.3 million international launch of “X-Men: The Last Stand” when accounting for fluctuating currency exchange rates.

Pic had plenty to overcome, beginning with piracy. A month ago, a working copy of the pic was posted on the Internet. Studio says the piracy could have cost the film as much as $20 million in its debut.

There seemed to be minimal damage in those countries where piracy is rampant. Film still finished No. 1 in many of those territories, including China, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore. In Germany, “Wolverine” grossed $4 million, the lowest of the four “X-Men” films. It also came in second in South Korea at $3 million.

But in Singapore and Malaysia, “Wolverine” marked the biggest Fox opening of all time, earning $1.6 million and $1.2 million, respectively. Pic grossed $990,000 in the Philippines, the top opening of the year.

Germany and Singapore in particular are known as hotbeds of illegal movie downloads.

“Wolverine’s” international appeal was impressive, and virtually matched the opening of the “X-Men: The Last Stand.”

The U.K led the way with $9.8 million — the best Brit launch of the year. That was followed by France ($7.4), Australia ($5.7 million), Spain ($5.5 million), Brazil ($4.8 million), Russia ($3.7 million) and Italy ($3.5 million).

In addition to piracy, Fox also had to contend with the flu epidemic, which closed down cinemas in Mexico City and other Mexican cities.

Fox postponed the launch of “Wolverine” in Mexico until May 14, situation permitting. Mexico is an important territory for the “X-Men” franchise.

As with any franchise that sees multiple installments, “Wolverine” had to pass the muster with fanboys. Movie got so-so reviews, but it was still able to win over its core demo — at least on opening weekend.

On Friday, “Wolverine” will have to contend with Paramount’s “Star Trek,” which opens day and date. (Par has postponed the Mexican launch until June 5.)

Warners prexy of distribution Dan Fellman said that “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” came right in line with expectations. Of the audience, 70% were women, while 30% were under the age of 25. He said the Matthew McConaughey-Jennifer Garner starrer should see strong legs next weekend because of Mother’s Day.

Fellman, giving a shout out to New Line, also pointed to the continuing box office success of Zac Efron starrer “17 Again.” In addition to staying high up on the domestic B.O. chart, “17 Again” came in No. 2 at the international box office with $8.3 million at 1,852 in 25 markets, led by a $3.6 million launch in Spain. Pic has cumed $38 million overseas for a worldwide tally of $86.5 million.

In its first major foreign launches, Disney’s “Hannah Montana: The Movie” connected with its preteen demo with $6.7 million at 1,050 in a dozen markets. On the domestic side, “Hannah Montana” placed No. 9 in its fourth weekend, declining 37% to an estimated $4.1 million.

Universal’s Russell Crowe topliner “State of Play” continues to struggle. In North America, film finished at No. 10, grossing $3.7 million in its third weekend for a domestic cume of $30.9 million. Film earned a respectable $5.1 million at 1,422 in 14 territories for the weekend, bringing the foreign cume to $12.4 million and a worldwide tally of $43.4 million.

The notable specialty opener was Jim Jarmusch’s “The Limits of Control.” The Focus Features release posted a per-location average of $18,087 with an estimated $54,233 from three theaters. Results were strongest from Jarmusch’s Manhattan homebase.

In its second week, Sony Pictures Classics’ docu “Tyson” grossed $70,910 from 13 screens for a cume of $201,445.

Michael Keaton’s directing debut “The Merry Gentleman” from Samuel Goldwyn Films opened in three markets, with $72,240 from 24 screens.