'Hulk' a boxoffice smash

'Happening' finishes third

"The Incredible Hulk" opened more than credibly for Universal and Marvel this weekend, as the big green guy rung up an estimated $54.5 million in opening-frame green stuff.

The performance outpaced most prerelease projections and carried the high-profile remake to the top of the domestic boxoffice rankings. Family favorite "Kung Fu Panda" from Paramount and DreamWorks Animation dropped just 43% from its week-earlier opening grosses to grab second place during the Father's Day frame with $34.3 million and a $118 million cume, while M. Night Shyamalan's sci-fi horror release "The Happening" also bowed better than anticipated with $30.5 million in third place.

Sony's Adam Sandler comedy "You Don't Mess With the Zohan" fell 57% in its sophomore session to $16.4 million, good for fourth place and a $68.8 million cume. Paramount's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" unearthed another $13.5 million to nab fifth and push its cume to $275.3 million through four sessions.

Industrywide, the weekend marked a 24% improvement compared with the same frame from last year with $180 million, according to data service Nielsen EDI. That was the third straight year-over-year weekend uptick, with the seasonal boxoffice now running 2% ahead of tallies from the same portion of summer 2007.

Year-to-date, 2008 remains off 1% from the same portion of last year, at $3.96 billion.

In a limited bow this weekend, IFC Films' documentary "My Winnipeg" from Canadian director Guy Maddin grossed $15,200 from a pair of theaters, or a sturdy $7,600 per venue.

ThinkFilm's Werner Herzog-helmed docu "Encounters at the End of the World" unspooled in a single New York venue to gross a notable $17,500 on the weekend and $25,683 since its Wednesday bow.

Sony Pictures Classics debuted its comedy "Baghead" in two locations and rung up $8,925, or an acceptable $4,463 per site.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, SPC added 16 playdates for its family drama "When Did You Last See Your Father?" and grossed $89,424, or $3,726 per engagement, with a cume of $149,915.

IFC drama "Savage Grace" added 11 theaters for a total of 18 to gross $56,160, or $3,120 per venue, with a $91,323 cume.

Paramount Vantage's martial arts comedy "Foot Fist Way" added eight locations for a total of 25 but grossed just $21,699, or a thin $868 per site, with a cume of $145,324.

Rated PG-13, "Incredible Hulk" follows in the oversized footsteps of the $62.1 million bow of a 2003 predecessor, simply titled "Hulk."

But that film, which was widely disparaged by critics and fans alike, dropped precipitously after it opened and only rung up a total of $132.2 million overall domestically. Executives hope to do better with the remake, even if the taint of the first film hampered its prerelease marketing until a late-breaking surge in fan interest.

"Marvel took what they knew from the 2003 'Hulk' and made an audience-pleasing film," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said. "And Universal marketing overcame the challenges and delivered the audience."

Film audiences were 60% male, with 52% ages 25 and older.

"At this point all I can say is stay tuned," Marvel Studios chairman David Maisel demurred of the prospect for "Incredible Hulk" sequels.

Still, a franchise sequel now appears mostly just a matter of timing. Marvel already is committed to a slate of projects for the next few years, but by 2012 execs hope to be green-lighting as many as three productions a year.

The Hulk character will likely next be seen on the big screen in Marvel's movie adaptation of the ensemble super hero comic "The Avengers," set for summer 2011.

Louis Leterrier ("Transporter") was the director on the latest Hulk film, taking a more action-oriented approach than Ang Lee followed in the brooding original, and Edward Norton replaced Eric Bana as Bruce Banner/Hulk to notch his career-best bow with the remake.

The R-rated "Happening" follows Shyamalan's similarly panned "Lady in the Water," which bowed with $18 million in July 2004. The reviews weren't much kinder this time, but Fox's marketing efforts on the Mark Wahlberg starrer seemed to find traction in the final week before the release of the director's latest creepfest.

UTV and Spyglass helped finance the film, which had been budgeted for $57 million but managed a $50 million negative cost thanks to a $5 million Pennsylvania tax credit and Shyamalan's shooting under budget.

"It's a fantastic start for an R-rated horror film," Fox senior vp distribution Chris Aronson said. "It way exceeded our expectations."

"Happening" audiences were evenly split between males and females, with 52% of patrons under age 25.

Looking ahead, next weekend looks like a comedy smackdown.

Warner Bros. bows its Steve Carell-starring tentpole "Get Smart," while Paramount unspools the heavily promoted Mike Myers spoof "The Love Guru." The entrants should complement this weekend's openers to give moviegoers an array of genre choices, but the laughers could see significant overlap as they try to woo first-frame audiences.