Weekend Box Office (May 9 - 11, 2008)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND There was no stopping the strength of Iron Man which dominated the multiplexes for a second straight frame grossing more than the two new releases combined. The race for second place was extremely close on Sunday, but final grosses released on Monday showed that Fox's comedy What Happens in Vegas delivered a larger opening than the Warner Bros. family picture Speed Racer. Regardless, the new product and the strong hold from the super hero giant helped the overall marketplace surge well ahead of year-ago levels.

Paramount ruled the box office again with the first installment of its new super hero franchise Iron Man which grossed $51.2M dropping 48% from last week, according to final studio figures. Compared to the studio's $102.1M bow which included Thursday night showtimes the second weekend decline was still just 50% which amounted to a strong hold given the enormous amount of business that was generated in the first weekend. The cume has soared to $177.8M already making it the top-grossing film of 2008 by surpassing the $150.7M that Horton Hears A Who has collected over the last two months.

Iron Man is off to the best start ever for a non-webslinger comic book movie. The total beat out ten-day starts for 2003's X2: X-Men United ($147.7M) and 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand ($175.3M). The third mutant adventure even launched over the lucrative Memorial Day holiday weekend. X2 dropped by a similar 53% in its second session and its ten-day cume would amount to roughly $175M at today's ticket prices so Iron Man is closely following that Marvel film's admissions trajectory. The second X-Men flick, which had the same May 2 opening date five years ago, went on to gross $214.9M domestically, or around $250M at 2008 prices.

The Robert Downey Jr. pic scored the largest sophomore weekend haul of any film since last May's Shrek the Third which banked $53M on its second frame. Positive word-of-mouth helped as fans are recommending the super hero film to others and helping to drive sales. Plus the two new releases ended up not providing too much competition. This Friday's release of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and the following week's debut of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull will provide some formidable distractions very soon. But at its current pace, Iron Man should soar to $260-280M from North America alone and could break the $500M mark worldwide. With an international haul of $165M, the global gross already sits at $342.8M.

On Sunday, Warner Bros. and Fox both fought over the number two spot with their new releases. According to those estimates, Warners claimed a slim $210,000 victory however the rankings switched on Monday when final grosses were reported giving Fox a clear $1.6M advantage.

Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher won the runnerup spot with the new anti-romantic comedy What Happens in Vegas which took in $20.2M this weekend, a good $172,000 better than originally estimated. Playing in 3,215 playdates, the PG-13 film averaged a solid $6,274 per venue. Vegas performed better than all the other recent comedies to hit the marketplace over the last month scoring higher than the openings for Forgetting Sarah Marshall ($17.7M), Baby Mama ($17.4M), and Made of Honor ($14.8M). In fact, the $35M-budgeted Vegas enjoyed the second best comedy opening of the year after studio stablemate 27 Dresses ($23M).

The big-budget family film Speed Racer struggled in its opening weekend bowing to $18.6M from 3,606 locations falling by $1.6M from its original estimate. Averaging a lukewarm $5,147 per theater, the PG-rated film from the Wachowski Brothers fell short of all industry expectations. Even the least bullish projections forecast a debut in the high $20M range. Panned by most critics, the colorful and stylized racing flick tried to target kids and parents but failed to truly connect with audiences. Other high profile live-action summer films based on cartoon shows of the past fared better like Scooby Doo which bowed to $54.2M in 2002 and The Flintstones which debuted to $37.2M over four days back in 1994. Speed Racer at least didn't crash and burn like The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle which opened to a miserable $6.8M in 2000.

Warner Bros. calculated a surprisingly slim 11% Sunday decline into its weekend estimate which ended up becoming a 33% drop after all ticket sales were counted. Fox witnessed only a 27% Sunday drop for What Happens in Vegas and most major wide releases experienced 30-40% declines on Sunday. Speed Racer suffered from bad buzz and intense competition from Iron Man which appealed to many of the same people. Plus the racing pic is based on a property that lacks the broad mainstream appeal that other major summer films benefit from. With a reported production cost of well over $100M, Speed Racer also got off to a slow start overseas grossing just $12.6M from 30 markets. South Korea saw the largest international opening with $2.5M helped undoubtedly by the film's casting of Korean pop star Rain, however most countries saw debut weekends of under $1M.

Four recent comedies with a combined cume of $149M followed with each dropping by less than 50%. In its second weekend, Sony's Made of Honor fell by 45% to $8.1M pushing the ten-day tally to respectable $26.8M. Budgeted at $40M (a tad high for a laugher), the Patrick Dempsey vehicle should find its way to a mediocre $40-45M domestically.

Universal's pair of comedies Baby Mama and Forgetting Sarah Marshall followed with grosses of $6.2M and $3.8M, respectively. The Tina Fey-Amy Poehler pic dropped 38% and lifted its sum to $40.8M. Judd Apatow's latest R-rated concoction dipped by only 37% and has laughed up $50.8M to date. Falling 49% was the stoner sequel Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay with $3.1M giving New Line and parent Warner Bros. $30.7M to date.

Jackie Chan and Jet Li claimed the number eight spot with The Forbidden Kingdom which took in $2.2M, off 48%, for a $48.5M total for Lionsgate. Fox's kidpic Nim's Island fell 45% to $1.5M giving the adventure film $44.4M in its sixth week of play. The Sony horror hit Prom Night collected $1M, off 58%, pushing the tally to $42.8M

Sony Classics expanded its martial arts drama Redbelt after a week in limited release and landed in eleventh place with $1M. Averaging a weak $734 from 1,379 locations, the R-rated action film upped its total to $1.1M and should conclude its run with less than $4M.

Sony saw a hit and a flop fall out of the top ten this weekend. The card-counting drama 21 enjoyed a six-week streak in the top ten but dropped 57% this weekend to $851,385. With a robust $80.4M in winnings earned to date, the Kevin Spacey flick looks to cash out with around $82M which was much better than anyone had expected. Al Pacino did not have much luck with audiences as they ignored his latest crime thriller 88 Minutes. The dismal entry collapsed by 65% this weekend taking in just $534,104 to push its embarrassing sum to only $16.5M. Not much more will be added.

The top ten films grossed $115.9M which was up a healthy 24% from last year when Spider-Man 3 remained on top with $58.2M; and up a sturdy 43% from 2006 when Mission: Impossible III stayed at number one with $25M. Both of those action sequels were in their second weekends.

Compared to projections, Speed Racer fell well short of my $32M forecast but What Happens in Vegas was on target with my $20M prediction.

For NEW reviews of Speed Racer and Iron Man visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian attacks.

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

# Title May 9 - 11 May 2 - 4 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Iron Man $ 51,190,629 $ 98,618,668 -48.1 4,111 2 $ 12,452 $ 177,825,024 Paramount
2 What Happens in Vegas 20,172,474 3,215 1 6,274 20,172,474 Fox
3 Speed Racer 18,561,337 3,606 1 5,147 18,561,337 Warner Bros.
4 Made of Honor 8,116,323 14,756,850 -45.0 2,734 2 2,969 26,791,494 Sony
5 Baby Mama 6,225,790 10,065,010 -38.1 2,627 3 2,370 40,836,370 Universal
6 Forgetting Sarah Marshall 3,837,240 6,059,920 -36.7 2,376 4 1,615 50,781,745 Universal
7 Harold & Kumar Escape From... 3,106,424 6,114,373 -49.2 2,264 3 1,372 30,667,308 New Line
8 The Forbidden Kingdom 2,169,323 4,187,897 -48.2 1,724 4 1,258 48,530,104 Lionsgate
9 Nim's Island 1,463,622 2,677,543 -45.3 1,601 6 914 44,395,857 Fox
10 Prom Night 1,012,986 2,403,313 -57.9 1,465 5 691 42,785,107 Sony
11 Redbelt 1,012,435 63,361 1,379 2 734 1,109,674 Sony Classics
12 21 851,385 2,002,471 -57.5 978 7 871 80,434,035 Sony
13 The Visitor 729,212 606,597 20.2 217 5 3,360 2,475,492 Overture
14 Horton Hears A Who 605,347 1,337,562 -54.7 770 9 786 150,699,120 Fox
15 88 Minutes 534,104 1,545,084 -65.4 625 4 855 16,460,014 Sony
16 Drillbit Taylor 508,095 730,231 -30.4 267 8 1,903 31,760,807 Paramount
17 Then She Found Me 467,577 230,461 102.9 153 3 3,056 890,591 ThinkFilm
18 Young @ Heart 388,928 315,357 23.3 145 5 2,682 1,444,646 Fox Searchlight
19 10,000 B.C. 347,407 152,182 128.3 409 10 849 94,042,448 Warner Bros.
20 Bhoothnath 330,246 64 1 5,160 330,246 Eros
Top 5 $ 104,266,553 $ 135,614,821 -23.1
Top 10 115,856,148 148,431,129 -21.9
Top 20 121,630,884 154,866,852 -21.5
Top 20 vs. 2007 121,630,884 101,695,023 19.6

Last Updated: May 12, 2008 at 11:45PM ET

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