‘Wolverine’ looks sharp at the box office

McConaughey's 'Girlfriends' out in 3,000 runs

Just how much will 20th Century Fox’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” wolf down in its worldwide debut today, which marks the start of the summer box office?

“Wolverine” comes on the heels of the best winter and spring ever at the box office. Domestic revenues are up 15% through Tuesday, admissions 12%. Considering those gains, expectations are high for the summer sesh.

In a counterprogramming move, Warner Bros. and New Line are opening Matthew McConaughey-Jennifer Garner romantic comedy “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.” Last year, Sony’s romantic comedy “Made of Honor” opened to $15 million when debuting the same weekend as Paramount’s “Iron Man.” Warners takes “Girlfriend” out in 3,000 runs.

Roadside Attractions is looking to snag some family biz this weekend with 3-D toon adventure “Battle for Terra,” which opens in 1,159; 3-D pics have been seeing strong box office thanks to the premium cost of a 3-D ticket.

Predictions vary for “Wolverine.” Fox, trying to manage expectations for the Marvel prequel, is saying in the $70 million range. Tracking suggests the spinoff/prequel could open much higher.

“Wolverine,” returning Hugh Jackman in the title role, is tracking on par with “Iron Man,” which debuted to $102 million on the same weekend a year ago.

But there are mitigating factors that could eat into “Wolverine’s” earnings. A month ago a working copy of the film was pirated and leaked on the Internet. Fox insiders say it could cost the film $20 million in B.O. revenues considering that hundreds of thousands of copies were downloaded.

Territories in Asia, where piracy is rife, could be particularly impacted. Germany is also a hotbed for illegal movie downloads.

Fox opens “Wolverine” in 4,099 theaters domestically in the widest opening ever for the studio. Pic was produced by Lauren Shuler Donner, John Palermo and Jackman. Directed by Gavin Hood, “Wolverine” cost $130 million to produce after Australian tax credits. New faces to the franchise include Liev Schreiber and Taylor Kitsch.

“Wolverine” is getting so-so reviews, which could also take a bite out of the box office, although fanboy titles are generally review-proof on opening weekend.Universal’s spring box office hit “Fast and Furious,” which earned dismal reviews, opened to $70 million domestically on its way to cuming $316.7 million worldwide.

The previous title in the franchise, “X-Men: The Last Stand,” debuted to $102.8 million over Memorial Day weekend in 2006. Gross was boosted by the four-day holiday weekend. “X2: X-Men United,” like “Wolverine,” opened on the first weekend of summer, in 2003, grossing $85.6 million. “X-Men” opened to $54.5 million in July 2000.

If “Wolverine” does the kind of worldwide business that the previous three films did, Fox will have found a way to extend the life of a franchise that’s very important to the studio.

On the foreign front, Fox is going with a near-saturation launch for “Wolverine,” which opens in 9,000-9,200 playdates and in every major market except Japan and Mexico.

Fox decided over the weekend to postpone the launch of “Wolverine” in Mexico, where it had been set to open today, because of the flu outbreak.

Pic opened Wednesday in Australia, Belgium, France, Hong Kong, Malaysia and South Korea.

International prospects appear impressive given that the three “X-Men” franchise pics have generated over $550 million in foreign coin, with 2006’s “The Last Stand” taking in $224 million outside the U.S.

With “Wolverine” set to dominate and “Star Trek” going day-and-date next weekend, distribs are limiting the openings to a few targeted markets as counterprogramming plays.

“Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” will go day-and-date in the U.K., while “17 Again” opens in Hong Kong and Spain and Taiwan. “Duplicity” will launch in Germany, and “State of Play” opens in Italy and South Korea.

There are a number of specialty openers at the domestic box office.

Focus Features opens Jim Jarmusch’s “The Limits of Control” in three theaters in New York and L.A. Pic stars Gael Garcia Bernal, Hiam Abbass, Bill Murray and John Hurt.

IDP/Samuel Goldwyn drama “The Merry Gentleman” bows in 24 theaters. Pic marks Michael Keaton’s directorial debut. He also stars in the film. IFC Films opens Tim Daly starrer “The Skeptic” in one theater in New York.

Lantern Lane releases documentary “Naked Ambition,” a look at the porn industry’s annual AVN convention, in two theaters in Los Angeles.

(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)

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