Marvel pic's $104 mil melts down b.o.

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Paramount's summer-launching Robert Downey Jr. starrer "Iron Man" rocketed to the top of the domestic boxoffice with an estimated $100.8 million in first-weekend grosses and a $104.3 million cume since bowing Thursday night.

The outsized performance by the Marvel Studios-produced film represents the second-biggest opening ever by a non-sequel, after the $114.8 million bow by "Spider-Man" in May 2002. An estimated $96.8 million from 57 foreign territories underscored the sense that an important new movie franchise has been born.

In a counterprogramming move by Sony, the romantic comedy "Made of Honor" unspooled with $15.5 million domestically to grab second place on the weekend amid older female support. Yet plenty of men and women of all ages were swept up in the "Iron Man" mania, which launched the summer boxoffice season on an upbeat note.

Still, the weekend's $162 million in industrywide domestic grosses underperformed the comparable year-ago session by 15%, according to Nielsen EDI. "Spider-Man 3" kicked off summer 2007 with a $151.1 million opening.

The year-over-year downtick brings into sharp focus how tough a task Hollywood faces in posting a new boxoffice record this season, though it bears noting "Spider-Man 3" was last summer's top-grossing film. Year to date, 2008 is off 3% from the same portion of last year at $2.66 billion.

Among this weekend's holdovers, Universal's "Baby Mama" dropped a modest 43% in its second session to $10.3 million in third place and a 10-day cume of $32.3 million. Warners' stoner comedy "Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay" dropped a bigger 60% in its sophomore session, earning $6 million in fifth place with a $25.3 million cume.

Limited bows included David Mamet's "Redbelt" from Sony Pictures Classics, with the martial arts drama grossing $68,645 from six engagements in New York and Los Angeles. That represented a per-screen average of $11,441, boding well as "Redbelt" expands wide on Friday with more than 1,000 runs.

Paramount Vantage's British coming-of-age comedy "Son of Rambow" rung up $52,549 from five inaugural playdates in New York and Los Angeles, collecting a rosy $10,510 per engagement.

IDP debuted the Holocaust-survivor drama "Fugitive Pieces" in 30 theaters and grossed $108,000, meaning a sturdy per-venue average of $3,600 for the Samuel Goldwyn-Maximum Films production.

IFC Films' Diego Luna-Samantha Morton starrer "Mister Lonely" found an auspicious $19,133 at a single New York location.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, Overture's drama "The Visitor" added 54 theaters for a total of 130 and grossed $663,000, or a solid $5,100 per venue, with a $1.6 million cume.

ThinkFilm's Helen Hunt-directed "Then She Found Me" added 44 theaters for a total of 53 and grossed $221,705, or an acceptable $4,183 per site, with a cume of $316,366.

IDP/Goldwyn's French-language thriller "Roman de gare" was held over in a pair of New York venues to gross $24,044, or $12,022 per screen, with a $261,294 cume.

"Iron Man" drew almost uniformly positive reviews before its bow, and executives are hoping word-of-mouth will carry the Jon Favreau-directed film through more competitive future frames. Wide openers for the coming weekend include Warner Bros.' "Speed Racer," a PG-rated action film directed by the Wachowski brothers.

The "Iron Man" performance may benefit more than just Paramount and Marvel by kick-starting the summer boxoffice, which for the past several years has begun with the first weekend in May. But in outperforming pre-release projections so dramatically, the overachieving bow helped no one trying to manage expectations for future summer films.

Only recently had Paramount acknowledged the film could bow above even $70 million.

"It's one thing to predict success; it's another thing to predict the biggest successes of all time," Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore observed with a chuckle on Sunday. "But things really started looking good when the reviews started coming in."

The bow was by far the best opening for Favreau ("Elf"), as well as Downey and other cast members including Gwyneth Paltrow. It was the second-best opening for a Paramount-distributed film, after 2007's "Shrek the Third" ($121.6 million), and as the first wholly Marvel-produced film it set the bar high for the fledgling studio's future comic book adaptations.

"It's a historic day for Marvel," Marvel Studios chairman David Maisel said. "From Marvel's point of view, we have been working on this project for five years, (and) as we watched the enthusiasm and word-of-mouth build, we started feeling very, very good."

Opening audiences for the film were 62% male, with 57% 25 and older. "Iron Man" fetched $3.5 million from more than 2,500 Thursday engagements before expanding to 4,105 playdates.

Starring Patrick Dempsey and Michelle Monaghan, "Honor" had opening audiences comprised 68% of females, with 62% of its patrons 25 and older.

"We're feeling good, especially considering how big 'Iron Man' turned out to be," Sony distribution topper Rory Bruer said of the "Honor" debut. "It's a good start."

Looking ahead, "Iron Man" is rated PG-13, so its target audience won't overlap too severely with that of "Racer." But "Honor" and other recent female-oriented comedies will see new competition in "What Happens in Vegas," a romantic comedy starring Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz. (partialdiff)
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