'Iron Man' Blasts Off
What a difference a single movie can make. After weeks of humdrum pictures dragging it down, business came roaring back with the sensational debut of Iron Man, the first salvo of the summer movie season. While the weekend as a whole was down from last year when Spider-Man 3 hit a new opening milestone, it was the fourth best on record for the early May timeframe.

Iron Man rocketed to $98.6 million on approximately 8,700 screens at 4,105 theaters for a $102.1 million tally including Thursday night previews. The reportedly $140 million-budgeted Marvel Comics adaptation had the second-highest grossing opening weekend ever for a non-sequel behind Spider-Man and the tenth highest overall. In terms of attendance, the start was slightly higher than X2: X-Men United's May 2 debut five years ago, and it soared past Marvel's average opening by over 60 percent.

"It's a fantastic start to our new studio," said David Maisel, chairman of Marvel Studios, the company that developed and produced Iron Man as their inaugural release. Prior to Iron Man, the Marvel Comics adaptations were created by other companies, but, pre-existing movie franchises notwithstanding, Marvel Studios will be making them now with other studios serving as distributors, such as Paramount Pictures for Iron Man and Universal Pictures for the upcoming The Incredible Hulk. "We're lucky to have this powerful Marvel brand that is loved, not just in comics. Like Pixar, it stands for something. It's quality family entertainment, and we have a fan base that spreads virally. Now, we have complete creative control."

Amidst the recent movie drought, Iron Man was an oasis and behaved like an upper echelon superhero movie. Previously, only the most popular superheroes attained such heights, namely Spider-Man, Batman, Superman and X-Men, while lower tier characters like Fantastic Four, Hulk, Ghost Rider and Daredevil peaked in the mid-range. In advertising, Iron Man was presented as a bright and colorful spectacle and featured a witty main character with aspirations, played by Robert Downey, Jr. (adding rooting interest with his comeback role), who wasn't tortured like most recent superheroes, coming off as a happy version of Batman. According to Paramount's exit polling, the audience was 65 percent male and 55 percent over 25 years old. What's more, moviegoers seemed to enjoy the picture as it garnered an "A" from both pollster CinemaScore and Box Office Mojo readers.

The best performing superhero movies have had a famous super villain (and hence super conflict) to enhance moviegoer interest. Spider-Man had the Green Goblin, Batman had the Joker, Superman had Lex Luthor, X-Men had Magneto. Iron Man has Iron Monger, which Maisel said is well known to fans of the comic. However, that villain is not well known to the public at large and was not prominent in the marketing campaign. That Iron Man lacked this component makes its opening all the more impressive.

Also opening nationwide was Made of Honor. The romantic comedy was an attempt to counter-program Iron Man, replete with a well-worn wedding gimmick like 27 Dresses earlier this year. Lacking a strong female lead, the nearly $40 million production fared in the average range among wedding movies, grossing $14.8 million on around 3,300 screens at 2,729 venues. Distributor Sony's research indicated that 68 percent of the audience was female and 62 percent was over 25.

Among holdovers, Universal Pictures' comedies Baby Mama and Forgetting Sarah Marshall had standard drops. Baby Mama was off 42 percent to $10.1 million for $32.1 million in ten days, while Forgetting dipped 45 percent to $6.1 million for $44.7 million in 17 days.

Crumbling around 60 percent apiece were Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay and The Forbidden Kingdom. The Harold and Kumar sequel nabbed $6.1 million in its second weekend but, with a $25.4 million tally, it's exceeded the final tally of its predecessor by all measures. Forbidden Kingdom collected $4.2 million for $45.1 million in 17 days and is on track to have lower attendance than The Tuxedo among past similar movies. Indicative of the general weakness of recent movies, no wide release held well in the face of Iron Man and the smallest drop was posted by Nim's Island, down 41 percent.

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• 5/7/07 - 'Spider-Man 3' Soars Into the Record Books (Same Weekend, 2007)
• 5/8/06 - 'Mission: Impossible III' Doesn't Thrill (Same Weekend, 2006)

• 5/9/05 - 'Kingdom' of Limbo, 'House' of Lax (Same Weekend, 2005)

• 5/10/04 - 'Van Helsing' Stakes Out Solid Summer Start

• 5/5/03 - 'X2' Evolves Past Predecessor in Stellar Summer Kickoff

• 5/6/02 - 'Spider-Man' Takes Box Office on Ultimate Spin


Weekend Box Office Results

• All Time Opening Weekends

• Marvel Comics Adaptations

• Superhero Movies

• Wedding Movies