'Speed Racer' a b.o. jalopy

'Iron Man' holds with $50 mil as WB actioner chugs to $20 mil

Legs of steel carried "Iron Man" to No. 1 in the domestic boxoffice again during the weekend, as the Paramount/Marvel franchise launcher dropped just 51% from opening grosses to run up an estimated $50.5 million during its second frame.

That gave the Robert Downey Jr. starrer an 11-day cume of $177.1 million and easily outpaced the sputtering $20.2 million debut by Warner Bros.' PG-rated actioner "Speed Racer." Fox's modestly budgeted romantic comedy "What Happens in Vegas," starring Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz, bowed solidly with $20 million in third place.

Sony's romantic comedy "Made of Honor," starring Patrick Dempsey and Michelle Monaghan, fell a smallish 49% in its sophomore session to finish fourth with $7.6 million and a $26.3 million cume. Universal's female-skewing comedy "Baby Mama" delivered $5.8 million over its third frame to grab fifth place and shape a $40.4 million cume.

Industrywide, the weekend marked a 16% improvement over the same frame last year with $123 million in collective boxoffice, according to Nielsen EDI.

But year to date, 2008 trails the same portion of last year by 2% with $2.87 billion in industry grosses. The young summer boxoffice is off 4% from the same stretch of the previous swimsuit season, as even the strong "Iron Man" grosses have failed to measure up against the first two weekends of the biggest film from summer 2007, "Spider-Man 3."

Limited bows over the latest frame — which featured the Mother's Day holiday on Sunday — included ThinkFilm's drama "Noise," which grossed $4,050 from a pair of New York playdates, or just $2,025 per venue. The distributor's Ellen Page starrer "The Tracey Fragments" grossed $3,330 from a single New York engagement.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, Sony Pictures Classics broadened David Mamet's "Redbelt" to 1,379 locations to ring up $1.1 million in 10th place. The martial arts drama, which debuted in six New York and Los Angeles locations May 2, now carries a $1.2 million cume.

Overture's drama "The Visitor" added 87 playdates for a total of 217 and grossed $764,000, or an acceptable $3,521 per engagement, with a $2.5 million cume.

Paramount Vantage's British comedy "Son of Rambow" added five locations for a total of 36 in grossing $137,971, or $3,833 per site, with a cume of $210,974.

IDP added five theaters for a total of 35 for the literary adaptation "Fugitive Pieces" from Samuel Goldwyn and Maximum Films, grossing $82,425, or a thin $2,355 per venue, with a $215,599 cume.

The distributor also added 13 playdates for a total of 15 for Goldwyn's French-language drama "Roman de gare," which grossed $64,000, or a sturdy $4,266 per venue, with a cume of $333,582.

IFC Films expanded its comedy "Mister Lonely" from a single venue to five and grossed $18,000, or $3,600 per location.

"Speed Racer" drew audiences 52% male, with 23% of patrons under age 12 and parents buying 34% of all tickets.

Warners — which estimated "Speed Racer" cost about $120 million to produce — will hope outsized DVD revenue of the sort family titles tend to produce will help to compensate for the film's underperforming theatrically. Village Roadshow co-financed the film, which never stimulated broad pre-release interest despite its being directed by the Wachowski brothers, its starring rising young actor Emile Hirsch and its links to the well-known anime cartoon series.

"Obviously, it's disappointing to us," Warners distribution president Dan Fellman said.

Exit surveys show patrons responded well to the film, he added. "What's hurting us is that the picture is playing very young," Fellman said.

Starting Friday, "Speed Racer" will be additionally challenged in the marketplace by the bow of Disney's sequel "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian." The family fantasy has already spurred speculation that "Caspian" could mount a domestic run of $300 million or more, as the first "Narnia" grossed $292 million in the U.S. and Canada.

"Vegas" audiences were 54% female, with 51% of patrons under age 25.

With "Vegas" toting negative costs estimated at just $35 million, Fox execs said they were pleased with the comedy's opening.

"To hit ($20 million) absolutely exceeds our expectations," Fox senior vp distribution Chris Aronson said.

Fox execs suggested the film could end up finishing in the silver-medal position when today's official data for the weekend boxoffice is released. That would mean a third-place opening for "Speed Racer," a onetime candidate to bow at No. 1 over the session. (partialdiff)