Forecast: 'Iron Man 3' in Line for One of the Biggest Openings Ever
Saturday Update: Iron Man 3 debuted to a massive $68.31 million on Friday, which ranks eighth all-time for opening day. It was noticeably behind The Avengers ($80.8 million), but was also way up on Iron Man 2 ($51.2 million). If it plays like those movies for the rest of the weekend, it will wind up with a weekend gross between $170 and $175 million, which will rank second all-time (behind The Avengers).

Friday A.M. Update: Disney is reporting that Iron Man 3 earned $15.6 million from Thursday evening shows in the U.S. That's a bit lower than the midnight opening for The Avengers last year ($18.7 million). This essentially ensures that Iron Man 3 won't match The Avengers for the weekend, considering it's much easier to fill seats at 9 p.m. than at midnight. Still, the movie remains on pace for at least $150 million by the end of the weekend.

The Summer movie season officially begins this weekend with Iron Man 3, which should leverage goodwill from The Avengers to generate one of the biggest opening weekends ever.

Opening at 4,253 locations, Iron Man 3 is the seventh movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the first one in what's being referred to as "Phase 2" (the post-Avengers era). "Phase 1" kicked off with the first Iron Man, which surprised many when it earned $318.4 million in Summer 2008. The sequel, 2010's Iron Man 2, grossed nearly as much ($312.4 million), but was mostly considered a creative disappointment. All the other "Phase 1" movies—The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger—earned less than $200 million domestically, which confirms that Iron Man is by-far the favorite character among The Avengers crew.

With very few exceptions, the third entry in an ongoing franchise winds up grossing less than its predecessor, no matter how well-liked the predecessor was (The Dark Knight Rises is a strong recent example of this trend). That probably won't be the case with Iron Man 3, though, because it's being perceived as a follow-up to The Avengers, not to Iron Man 2. That movie exceeded even the most outlandish expectations when it set the opening weekend record at this time last year with $207.4 million. It went on to earn over $623 million domestically and over $1.5 billion worldwide, making it the third-highest-grossing movie ever behind Avatar and Titanic.

Not content to merely cruise on positive vibes from The Avengers, Disney's marketing for Iron Man 3 has been aggressive and impressive. Previews manage to heighten the personal drama for Tony Stark while at the same time showcasing some awesome action; in particular, the destruction of Tony Stark's Malibu home has been a highlight of the campaign. It's also emphasized the conflict with villain The Mandarin, and teased a climactic battle that features an army of Iron Man suits (which does unfortunately call to mind the ending of Iron Man 2). All of this has added up to intense levels of anticipation: the movie currently accounts for 93 percent of sales on Fandango and 91 percent of sales on

Iron Man 3 has already opened throughout most overseas markets, and remarkably has performed about in line with The Avengers so far. In some critical areas, it's actually playing better than The Avengers: with tons of support from the Chinese government, the movie set a new opening day record there with $21.5 million on Wednesday. The movie has already earned over $300 million overseas, and should be over $450 million by the end of the weekend.

While this incredible foreign performance bodes well for its domestic debut, it would be hasty to assume Iron Man 3 can also match The Avengers here. The Avengers was a unique movie-going event unlike anything that had come before, while Iron Man 3's smaller scale puts it at an inherent disadvantage. Still, with a massive marketing push and zero competition, there's a legitimate change that Iron Man 3 tops Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 ($169.2 million) to claim the second-highest opening ever.

Forecast (May 3-5)

1. Iron Man 3 - $177 million

2. Pain and Gain - $9.3 million (-54%)

3. Oblivion - $8.3 million (-54%)

4. 42 - $6.2 million (-42%)

5. The Big Wedding - $4.5 million (-41%)

Bar for Success

Coming off The Avengers and with the addition of 3D ticket pricing to the franchise, Iron Man 3 needs to open noticeably higher than Iron Man 2 ($128.1 million). Anything above $150 million should be considered a major success.

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