After a godlike performance from "Fast Five" last weekend, the box office is poised to return to its mortal underpinnings, with Marvel superhero movie "Thor" not on pace to hit its $70 million-plus weekend projections.
The Paramount-distributed film grossed $25.7 million Friday, according to studio data, charging premium 3D rates at most of its 3,955 North American locations.
Overall, the domestic market was down 11 percent year to year Friday, with two other small films meeting mid-teen weekend forecasts.
Sony's "Jumping the Broom" grossed an estimated $4.2 million Friday, while Warner's "Something Borrowed" took in $4.8 million.
Universal's "Fast Five" declined nearly 70 percent from its first Friday, grossing an estimated $10.5 million Friday.
Meanwhile, among limited releases, curiousity about Mel Gibson's latest film, Summit's Jodie Foster-directed "The Beaver," isn't driving folks to the art house.
Debuting at 22 locations Friday, the film took in just $30,000 and is on pace to average only around $5,000 per engagement for the weekend.
After a long, hard winter, during which the box-office mercury plunged more than 20 percent, it's suddenly summer at the multiplex ... and things are finally heating up.
This weekend, Marvel's Norse-god-themed comicbook film "Thor" will arrive in more than 3,900 theaters, and will look to sustain momentum that slowly emerged several weeks ago, when Fox released its animated hit "Rio," then spiked big when Universal's "Fast Five" premiered to an outsized $86.2 million.
"I feel good about how the Universal movie did last week. We were going along under water for so long as an industry," said Don Harris, general manager of distribution for Paramount, which will release "Thor" for Marvel.
"Thor" will highlight an eclectic mix of new releases this weekend, with Warner romantic comedy "Something Borrowed" and Sony African-American-targeted comedy (also romantic) "Jumping the Broom" also opening wide, and Summit's Mel Gibson/Jodie Foster film "The Beaver" set for limited release.
Can “Thor” keep the momentum alive at the domestic box office?
Year to year, the box office is still down about 16 percent, and that figure might not improve much, if any, this weekend, even if the 3D "Thor" meets pre-release estimates in the $70 million-plus range. (Paramount's guidance is a bit more conservative, hovering below $60 million.)
Consider that last year, on this same weekend, Marvel and distributor Paramount also teamed on "Iron Man 2," which debuted to $128.1 million. For the 2011 box office, the tough comparisons continue.
As a property, Harris said, "Thor" doesn't arrive with the kind of built-in awareness of other Marvel properties, like, say "Iron Man" or "Spider-Man."
Still, any gross for "Thor" that comes in reasonably close to pre-release expectations has to be considered a win for Paramount and Marvel, considering that only "Fast Five" has premiered to more than $40 million this year.
According to a studio representative, the movie has $150 million production cost. However, and individual close to the project said the cost exceeded $175 million after reshoots.
"Paramount spent a fortune on a great campaign for a so-so movie that will open huge," noted a rival-studio executive. "It will quickly confirm Chris Hemsworth as a star, and then it will be quickly forgotten in the shadow of 'Pirates' and 'The Hangover II's' expected $100 million-plus openings."
Indeed, even better days seem to be ahead for the domestic box office, with Disney's fourth "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie and Warner's second "Hangover" film both slated for later in May and both tracking off the charts.
But "Thor" has some nice data backing it, too, with 59 percent of men 25 and younger reporting definite interest in seeing the film, and 19 percent of that group calling it their "first choice," according to tracking firm NRG. (The numbers are even better for males 25 and older, with 63 percent reporting definite interst and 27 percent listing the movie as their first ticket-buying choice.)
“Thor” will debut at 3,955 North American locations (2,737 3D-equipped). That’s 311 more theaters than “Fast Five” enjoyed last weekend. And with premium 3D ticket prices buoying it, it’s not inconceivable that the film could break “Fast Five’s” just-set 2011 opening mark. (The movie arrives in U.S. theaters on a bit of an international roll, too, having grossed more than $125 million in foreign revenue already.)
Reviews for the PG-13-rated "Thor," which was directed by Kenneth Branagh and co-stars Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins, are downright solid, with Rotten Tomatoes scoring it at 87 percent fresh as of mid-day Thursday.
"Thor" will have to compete with the still-hot "Fast Five" for tentpole dollars. A standard week-to-week decline would yield a second-weekend gross of over $40 million for that film.
Notably, Paramount and Marvel are re-teaming for the first time since Disney purchased the latter for $4 billion last year.
Has anything changed in the working relationship between Marvel and Paramount since, say, "Iron Man 2" was released in May 2010?
"If anything, it appears the Marvel people get along better with the Paramount people now," Harris said. "There seems to be a lot of mutual respect."
As for the weekend's other wide releases, "Something Borrowed" arrives in 2,904 theaters with weak reviews (19 percent Rotten Tomatoes score) and a somewhat weak 8 percent first-choice score in its target market, women under 25, according to NRG.
The Alcon Entertainment film, which was produced for around $35 million and stars Kate Hudson, “The Office’s” John Krasinski and “Big Love’s” Ginnifer Goodwin, is expected to open in the low teens.
As for “Jumping the Broom,” it was reportedly financed by Sony’s TriStar label for $7 million, and is directed by Salim Akil (BET’s “The Game”).
Opening at 2,035 locations, the movie is expected to open in the mid-to-high teens.
“Jumping the Broom,” which stars Angela Bassett and Mike Epps, is the second movie produced by Our Stories Films, which was started several years ago by BET founder Robert Johnson and so far has only one film under its belt, 2007 low-budget comedy “Who’s Your Caddy.”
While “Thor” will command much of the box-office attention as the weekend’s big tentpole release, Summit’s Jodie Foster-directed “The Beaver” will also be under scrutiny, with star Gibson making his first onscreen appearance since enduring yet another round of richly deserved tabloid hell in 2010.
After pushing the film back several times amid Gibson’s personal scandals, Summit will start "The Beaver" out slow, debuting it in 22 theaters.
The film, which garnered a 71 percent rating from Rotten Tomatoes, cost Summit, Participant Media and Imagenation around $21 million to make.
"I'm looking forward to this movie," said one rival-studio executive. "Despite all of Mel's problems, he still has a lot of talent."
Gibson’s last film was January 2010’s “Edge of Darkness,” an $80 million Warner thriller that grossed only $81.1 million worldwide.
Notable indie openings include Sundance premiere “Hobo With a Shotgun,” a tongue-in-cheek action film starring Rutger Hauer that Magnolia will put into two theaters.