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'Iron Man 2' rockets to No. 1

Film earned $133.6 million domestically; 'Nightmare' is No. 2

Marvel Studios' summer-launching comics actioner "Iron Man 2" handily outpaced its franchise predecessor but without industry records, opening atop domestic rankings with an estimated $133.6 million in weekend boxoffice.

The first "Iron Man" pic -- also starring Robert Downey Jr., who enjoyed a personal-best bow with the sequel -- debuted with $98.6 million in May 2008. Some had suggested that broad pre-release buzz could translate into a record opening by "Iron Man 2," but the $158.4 million first-frame performance of "The Dark Knight" in July 2008 remains secure in the record books.

Distributed by Paramount, "Iron Man 2" marked the fifth biggest bow ever and Paramount's best to date.

Heated expectations for the opening gave us knots in our subject, a relieved Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige conceded Sunday.

"But what untied those knots was watching the film with a paying audience," Feige added. "It really was an indication to us that they're still with us for this ride."

A franchise three-quel is expected to hit multiplexes sometime in 2013.

"We do have a contract with Robert Downey Jr. to do it, and it will come after 'The Avengers,' " Feige confirmed.

Paramount is set to unspool "Avengers" -- an ensemble superhero actioner featuring "Iron Man" and other Marvel characters -- on May 4, 2012.

Elsewhere this weekend, Warner Bros.' remake of horror pic "A Nightmare on Elm Street" finished in second place in its sophomore session with $9.2 million, despite falling a big 72% from its opening tally for $48.5 million in cumulative coin. DreamWorks Animation's leggy 3D adventure "How to Train Your Dragon" was third with $6.8 million from its seventh frame and cume totaling $201.1 million.

Summit Entertainment's Brendan Fraser comedy "Furry Vengeance" dipped 40% from its week-earlier bow to fetch $4 million in sixth place, with a 10-day cume of $11.6 million. And in a near-wide release, Focus Features unspooled "Babies" -- a documentary about the first year in four babies' lives -- in 593 locations and grossed $1.6 million in 10th place.

That represented an average $2,951 per site and a satisfactory result for a documentary bowing so broadly.

"Our business planning was for a $1.5 million weekend," Focus distribution president Jack Foley said. "So we're really happy."

Foley penciled in a "conservative" estimate for the pic's Sunday gross, though its aggressive distribution involved a Mother's Day counter-programming ploy opposite "Iron Man 2."

"Babies" was acquired for an unspecified modest sum by Focus, the Universal specialty unit that continues to draw rumors of a potential sale by Uni parent NBC Universal. NBC Uni in March rejected a $500 million offer from Media Rights Capital to buy Focus.

"We are not in negotiations to sell Focus Features," a Universal spokeswoman said Sunday.

The weekend top 10 grossed a collective $171 million, or 21% more than top performers in the comparable frame last year, Rentrak said. That was the second frame of last summer, topped by a $75.2 million bow by Paramount's "Star Trek." (The industry marks summer from the first weekend in May.)

Also during the latest frame, Sony Pictures Classics opened "Mother and Child" -- an ensemble drama featuring Naomi Watts, Annette Bening and Samuel L. Jackson-- on two screens in New York and two in L.A. to gross $44,488, or a promising $11,122 per auditorium.

And IDP/Samuel Goldwyn expanded the Michael Caine starrer "Harry Brown" by 24 playdates for a total 43, fetching $139,750, or an acceptable $3,250 per engagement, as cume rose to $381,070.

"Iron Man 2" cost at least $170 million to produce, with Marvel laying out roughly $75 million in additional marketing expenses. Its opening audiences skewed 60% male, with 60% of patrons aged 25 or older.

"We're thrilled to be associated with a picture that's given Paramount its biggest opening ever," Paramount exec vp distribution Don Harris said.

Exit surveys gave the pic top marks, he added.

"We think that bodes for a great Mother's Day and a great long run," Harris said.

Paramount distributed both "Iron Man" pics, though the sequel represents the first Marvel movie to hit multiplexes since Disney finalized its acquisition of the comic book giant in December. A total 181 domestic Imax venues contributed $10.2 million to the "Iron Man 2" bow.

The impressive, if not record, debut of "Iron Man 2" kicked off the summer boxoffice season in encouraging fashion. Even execs at rival studios were pulling for its successful launch, which they will hope suggests a healthy appetite for rest of the summer's popcorn pics.

Looking head to Friday when three new wide releases hit multiplexes, only Universal's Russell Crowe starrer "Robin Hood" takes aim at the same sort of moviegoer as "Iron Man 2." Other wide openers include Summit Entertainment's female-targeting "Letters to Juliet" and Fox Searchlight's urban-oriented romantic comedy "Just Wright," starring Pam Grier, Common and Queen Latifah.