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'Wolverine' tears up $160 mil worldwide

Welcome to the summer sizzle. Fox's Hugh Jackman starrer "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" kicked off the domestic industry's most lucrative boxoffice season with an estimated $87 million during the weekend to open at the high end of torrid prerelease forecasts.

"Wolverine" also bowed in a whopping 101 international territories, where its $73 million foreign tally through Sunday made for a sweltering $160 million worldwide launch for a tentpole actioner beset by cyber-pirates, cranky critics and even the threat of a global pandemic.

Elsewhere on the domestic landscape, Warner Bros.' romantic comedy "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past," starring Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Garner, bowed in second place with a respectable $15.3 million. But Roadside Attractions' animated sci-fi actioner "Battle for Terra" captured just $1.1 million to launch outside of the top 10.

Sony/Screen Gems' Beyonce Knowles starrer "Obsessed," which topped the boxoffice the previous weekend, dropped 57% from its opening grosses to ring up $12.2 million in third place for a 10-day cume of $47 million.

Among other sophomore- session pics, Paramount's DreamWorks-produced drama "The Soloist" fell a modest 42% to $5.6 million in sixth place with an $18.1 million cume, and the Disney Nature documentary "Earth" orbited another $4.2 million in seventh place — or just 53% less boxoffice than its first session — to plant a surprisingly green cume of $21.8 million. But the Universal drama "Fighting" tumbled a big 62% to $4.2 million in eighth with a $17.5 million cume.

Industrywide, the $155 million weekend marked a 5% dip from the same frame last year. Year to date, 2009 is pacing 8% ahead of the same portion of last year with $3.07 billion.

In a limited bow, Samuel Goldwyn/IDP unspooled the Michael Keaton-directed and -toplined drama "The Merry Gentlemen" in 24 locations to gross $72,240, or $3,010 per site.

Also, Focus Features opened the Jim Jarmusch-helmed thriller "The Limits of Control" in two theaters in Los Angeles and one in New York to gross $54,233, or an encouraging $18,087 per venue.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, Sony Pictures Classics' Mike Tyson documentary "Tyson" added two playdates for a total of 13 and grossed $70,910, or a muscular $5,455 per engagement, with a cume of $201,445.

And SPC's Broadway doc "Every Little Step" added four locations for a total of 12 and grossed $58,105, or a solid $4,842 per site, as its cume reached $233,687.

A spinoff of Fox's Marvel Comics-inspired "X-Men" franchise, "Wolverine" drew domestic audiences 53% male, with 52% of patrons 25 or older.

"More than half of those surveyed said it was 'better than expected,' " Fox senior vp distribution Chris Aronson said. "So hopefully that will translate into fantastic word-of-mouth."

"Wolverine" is simply a licensing deal with Fox for Marvel, which separately is producing several film adaptations of its comics at Paramount.

Paramount's Robert Downey Jr. starrer "Iron Man" — another Marvel licensing deal — kicked off summer 2008 with $102.1 million last May, eventually registering $318.4 million domestically. Warner Bros.' Batman sequel "The Dark Knight" tops the list of summer openers after debuting with $158.4 million last July, part of a $533.3 million domestic haul.

"X-Men: The Last Stand," the second and most recent "X-Men" sequel, is the franchise's top grosser after unspooling with $122.9 million in May 2006 and registering $234.4 million domestically.

Rated PG-13, "Wolverine" was helmed by Gavin Hood, who previously directed the 2007 drama "Rendition" and 2005's "Tsotsi." The film was produced for a reported $150 million but drew mixed reviews from critics, and execs fretted additionally that its big day-and-date global bow would be hurt by business lost through pirated copies of an early version circulating online.

Even the threat of swine flu-hampered grosses caused concern, especially in such markets as Texas and New York, where panic over the disease's spread from Mexico ran highest before the weekend. (Fox postponed the "Wolverine" opening in Mexico until at least May 14.)

But in the end, execs were happy with how things turned out during the film's first weekend.

"This big opening shows people have a huge appetite for summer movies, for Hugh Jackman and for 'Wolverine,' " Aronson said.

Also rated PG-13, the New Line-produced "Girlfriends" drew audiences 70% female, with 70% of patrons 25 or older.

"We came in right where we were targeting," Warners distribution president Dan Fellman said. "We're pleased with our opening, and next weekend is Mother's Day weekend, which is usually good for female-oriented pictures."

The PG-rated "Terra," which Roadside handled after using Lionsgate in an early consulting role, has a voice cast topped by Dennis Quaid and targets young boys with parents in tow. One problem for "Terra" was its failure to secure a critical mass of 3-D auditoriums, with just 460 extra-dimensional venues among its 1,161 playdates.

"We got trounced by 'Wolverine,' which took virtually all the family audience, even our target of 7- to 10-year-olds," Roadside co-president Howard Cohen said. "We hope to hold some matinees in the days and weeks to come."

Looking to this weekend, the marketplace challenges for "Wolverine" won't be over as another big tentpole is positioned for release during summer's second session: Paramount's sci-fi actioner "Star Trek." (partialdiff)
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