Weekend Box Office (May 2 - 4, 2008)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Paramount Pictures and its baby mama Marvel Studios were the proud parents of an explosive new movie franchise as the super hero film Iron Man blasted off to jaw-dropping ticket sales around the world officially kicking off the summer blockbuster season. The comic book actioner led the overall box office to its biggest weekend of the year and accounted for two-thirds of all business in the top ten. Opening in second with commendable numbers was the wedding-themed romantic comedy Made of Honor which gave women not interested in flying metal men something to see. Following a dismal spring season, the summer got started with a bang.

Iron Man crushed its competitors this weekend with a stunning $98.6M in ticket sales, according to final studio figures, covering the official Friday-to-Sunday period. An additional $3.5M in Thursday night preview sales from showtimes beginning at 8PM boosted the cume to $102.1M. The PG-13 hit starring Robert Downey Jr. delivered the tenth largest opening of all-time and the second highest ever for a non-sequel after the $114.8M of 2002's Marvel Comics sibling Spider-Man. The metal man easily outdistanced industry expectations which were in the $70-90M range. Co-starring Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard, and Gwenyth Paltrow, the Jon Favreau-directed blockbuster averaged a stellar $24,024 from a saturation release in 4,105 theaters.

Overseas, Iron Man invaded 57 territories and made off with a terrific $96.8M putting the global launch at a humongous $199M since the first international openings on Wednesday.

In North America, Friday took off with a massive $35.2M in grosses. Sales inched up 6% on Saturday to $37.4M and Sunday dropped 30% to $26M. Audience research showed that an understandable 65% were male while 55% were over 25. Reports on Iron Man's production cost have varied from $140M to $180M, but the negative cost should be easily recouped given the tremendous response worldwide.

In the Marvel stable, only its crown jewel Spider-Man has seen a better franchise debut with the first film's opening amounting to roughly $140M at today's ticket prices. Adjusting for 2008 prices, opening weekends for other first installments from the comic giant would be approximately $71M for 2000's X-Men, $73M for 2003's The Hulk, and $62M for 2005's Fantastic Four. Iron Man's opening zoomed a good $30-40M higher.

Most were not expecting a nine-digit debut from the Tony Stark pic since the Iron Man character is not as well-known as other super heroes like Spider-Man, Batman, or even The Hulk. But a massive marketing push, overwhelmingly positive reviews, and a release on the first weekend of May when no other event films were out helped it to dominate the attention of movie fans everywhere. For Paramount it was the second largest debut in company history trailing only the $121.6M of last May's animated sequel Shrek the Third that it released for DreamWorks. The studio's previous high for a live-action film was with last July's Transformers (another DreamWorks winner) which opened to a Friday-to-Sunday score of $70.5M after a mid-week bow.

Iron Man's success also comes as good news to Marvel since this is its first fully financed and produced picture as part of its new arrangement where it will retain more of the risks and rewards for its future super hero flicks. A sequel has already been announced and will open on April 30, 2010 so the profits will flow for years to come.

Most multiplexes played Iron Man on multiple screens in order to fulfill intense demand, however Paramount did not report the total number of prints in the marketplace. Looking at recent May behemoths, Spider-Man 3 and 2005's Star Wars Episode III opened with 10,000 and 9,400 prints respectively. It would not be surprising if Iron Man seized control of more than 9,000 total screens as well this weekend.

Despite absorbing so much demand upfront, Iron Man boasts indicators that it could have decent legs. Critics have poured on the praise leading to a staggering 94% score on RottenTomatoes.com which is the best of any wide release this year and tops among all super hero flicks ever. Plus exit polls taken this weekend by CinemaScore have delivered a fantastic A grade making the metal guy one of those rare action movies to be a winner with both critics and ticket buyers alike. Last year Spider-Man 3 met with lukewarm word-of-mouth after its record bow which accounted for a whopping 45% of its eventual final domestic haul of $336.5M. Opening weekend percentages for other high profile openers from the start of May include 28% for Spider-Man, 34% for 2001's The Mummy Returns, and 40% for X2: X-Men United. Given Iron Man's strong buzz and the calendar ahead, a final domestic tally of $250M is certainly within reach.

Thanks to Iron Man, eight of the top ten opening weekends of all-time have come from the lucrative month of May. The explosive launch of the Stark pic will be good for the entire industry since millions of moviegoers this weekend got to see trailers for upcoming summer films and may be getting back into the habit of visiting their local multiplexes.

Be sure to check back each day this week for continued daily box office coverage of Iron Man's sensational opening week.

Patrick Dempsey, who like Robert Downey Jr. began his career as a teen hunk in the 1980s, found himself one step behind the guest of honor with his new romantic comedy Made of Honor which grossed $14.8M during its opening weekend. The PG-13 film about a man who falls for his recently-engaged female best friend averaged a solid $5,407 from 2,729 locations. Sony positioned the critically-panned offering as a counter-programming choice against Iron Man for women uninterested in comic book antics. Not surprisingly, females made up 68% of the crowd according to studio research while 62% were over the age of 25. The Grey's Anatomy star's new film carried a budget of just under $40M

Despite new competition from a tentpole juggernaut and a hit romantic comedy, the Universal laugher Baby Mama held up very well in its second weekend dropping 42% to $10.1M. With a solid $32.1M in ten days, the Tina Fey-Amy Poehler pic looks set to find its way to around $55M.

The studio claimed the fifth slot too with its other female-skewing comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall which fell a moderate 45% to $6.1M lifting the cume to $44.7M making it the top-grossing picture of the year for Universal. The studio has struggled in 2008 and ranks dead last in marketshare among the big six studios, but hopes to turn things around this summer with big-budget action entries like The Incredible Hulk, Angelina's Jolie's Wanted, and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.

Audiences have been very kind to female-skewing comedies in recent weeks with Made, Baby, and Sarah all connecting with moviegoers and opening to $14-18M each. The marketplace has expanded to accommodate all three and an additional test will come next weekend when yet another player, Fox's What Happens in Vegas starring Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz, debuts nationwide. It boasts the most starpower of the foursome, but also looks the least funny.

New Line's guy comedy Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay fell sharply in its second weekend and ranked fourth with $6.1M. Down 59%, the $12M sequel has grossed $25.4M in ten days and should reach the neighborhood of $35M by the end of its run. That would double the $18.2M that Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle smoked up in 2004.

Jackie Chan and Jet Li got pummeled by the man of iron as their martial arts adventure film The Forbidden Kingdom tumbled 63% to $4.2M boosting the cume to a solid $45.1M for Lionsgate and The Weinstein Co. Fox's kidpic Nim's Island dropped a moderate 41% to $2.7M and lifted its total to $42.5M.

A trio of Sony releases followed. The teen thriller Prom Night dipped by 47% to $2.4M giving the studio $41.4M to date. The popular blackjack drama 21 took in $2M, off 50%, and increased its winnings to a stellar $79M. It is the eighth film released this year to break the $75M mark which is the same amount at this point last year. Rounding out the top ten was the Al Pacino misfire 88 Minutes which dropped 57% to $1.5M giving Sony a miserable $15.4M thus far.

Two new releases enjoyed solid debuts in limited release. David Mamet's martial arts drama Redbelt bowed to $63,361 from six locations for a $10,560 average. The R-rated film stars Chiwetel Ejiofor and Tim Allen. Paramount Vantage generated an average almost as good with its British comedy Son of Rambow which debuted in five houses with $53,789 for $10,758 per site. The film festival darling will expand to 30 theaters in a dozen additional markets this Friday.

Fox saw two films on the opposite ends of the box office spectrum drop out of the top ten this weekend. The Dr. Seuss toon Horton Hears a Who grossed $1.3M, down 46%, for a robust cume to date of $149.8M. Still the top-grossing film of the year for a few more days, the G-rated comedy reuniting the dream team of Jim Carrey and Steve Carell should finish its run with $152-154M. Later this week, Horton will become Carrey's fifth film to break the $150M domestic mark.

The studio's crime thriller Deception has been completely ignored by moviegoers and crumbled 62% in its second weekend to $883,417 and embarrassing $441 average. With only $4M taken in thus far, a puny $5-6M final seems likely.

The top ten films grossed $148.4M which was down 17% from last year when Spider-Man 3 opened to a record $151.1M; but up 58% from 2006 when Mission: Impossible III debuted at number one with $47.7M.

Compared to projections, Iron Man soared higher than my $83M forecast while Made of Honor opened on target with my $14M prediction.

For a NEW review of Iron Man and NEW DVD reviews of Cloverfield, There Will Be Blood, and The Great Debaters visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Speed Racer and What Happens in Vegas open nationwide.

Marketplace - Shop for DVDs, electronics, books, and posters at discounted prices:

# Title May 2 - 4 Apr 25 - 27 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Iron Man $ 98,618,668 4,105 1 $ 24,024 $ 102,118,668 Paramount
2 Made of Honor 14,756,850 2,729 1 5,407 14,756,850 Sony
3 Baby Mama 10,065,010 17,407,110 -42.2 2,548 2 3,950 32,062,480 Universal
4 Harold & Kumar Escape From... 6,114,373 14,908,404 -59.0 2,545 2 2,403 25,369,337 New Line
5 Forgetting Sarah Marshall 6,059,920 11,028,060 -45.0 2,872 3 2,110 44,732,340 Universal
6 The Forbidden Kingdom 4,187,897 11,212,364 -62.6 2,960 3 1,415 45,112,303 Lionsgate
7 Nim's Island 2,677,543 4,548,792 -41.1 2,478 5 1,081 42,471,660 Fox
8 Prom Night 2,403,313 4,508,122 -46.7 2,434 4 987 41,350,731 Sony
9 21 2,002,471 4,018,064 -50.2 2,242 6 893 78,959,237 Sony
10 88 Minutes 1,545,084 3,593,890 -57.0 1,765 3 875 15,368,925 Sony
11 Horton Hears A Who 1,337,562 2,486,903 -46.2 1,463 8 914 149,817,680 Fox
12 Deception 883,417 2,312,146 -61.8 2,001 2 441 4,000,654 Fox
13 Drillbit Taylor 730,231 395,693 84.5 427 7 1,710 31,164,888 Paramount
14 Street Kings 708,142 2,149,063 -67.0 855 4 828 25,133,327 Fox Searchlight
15 Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed 678,304 1,394,940 -51.4 656 3 1,034 6,613,256 Rocky Mountain
16 The Visitor 606,597 477,710 27.0 130 4 4,666 1,576,256 Overture
17 Leatherheads 572,320 1,827,555 -68.7 1,022 5 560 30,332,745 Universal
18 Smart People 325,787 895,175 -63.6 401 4 812 8,943,977 Miramax
19 Young @ Heart 315,357 219,785 43.5 121 4 2,606 925,669 Fox Searchlight
20 Shine A Light 278,006 425,957 -34.7 142 5 1,958 4,846,348 Par. Classics
Top 5 $ 135,614,821 $ 59,104,730 129.4
Top 10 148,431,129 76,023,855 95.2
Top 20 154,866,852 85,273,765 81.6
Top 20 vs. 2007 154,866,852 186,059,010 -16.8

Last Updated: May 5, 2008 at 7:15PM ET

Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Friday at 9:50am ET.