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‘Great Gatsby’ Dazzles With $51M, but Can’t Catch ‘Iron Man 3’

Disney's Marvel superhero sequel adds $72 million from domestic theaters as worldwide total approaches $1 billion

“The Great Gatsby” pulled off a dazzling $51 million debut, but couldn't catch "Iron Man 3" its second weekend in U.S. theaters.

Disney’s Marvel sequel rolled up another $72.5 million this weekend, and is approaching $1 billion at the worldwide box office. Last weekend, it posted the second-biggest U.S. office debut ever.

A huge Saturday lifted “Iron Man 3” to it repeat win. "Great Gatsby" and "Iron Man 3" both made around $19 million on Friday, but the family-fueled superhero saga took in almost $32 million Saturday, while "Gatsby" brought in $17.6 million. Still, Baz Luhrmann‘s 3D take on F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel danced far past analysts' expectations, which were in the $45 million range.

Also read: 5 WTF Moments from Baz Luhrmann (Even Before 'Great Gatsby')

"Iron Man 3" remained in a market-high 4,253 theaters and its second weekend total was down less than 60 percent from last weekend's $175 million debut. The superhero saga starring Robert Downey Jr. is a blockbuster worldwide. It has a domestic total of $284 million and, after adding another $89 million from overseas this weekend, its international total is $664 million, giving it a worldwide total of $949 million.

Also read: 'Star Trek Into Darkness' Opens at Warp Speed at Overseas Box Office

Distributor Warner Bros. co-produced "Gatsby" with long-time partner Village Roadshow, opened it in 3,535 theaters. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as millionaire Jay Gatsby while Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan and Joel Edgerton round out the cast.

The critics were split on "Gatsby" and first-night audiences seemed to be, too. It received a so-so "B" from CinemaScore, whose grades typically skew high. But there's no denying the aggressive marketing campaign — highlighting the film's stars, Jay-Z produced hip-hop soundtrack and Luhrmann's splashy directing style — connected.

"Gatsby" is easily Luhrmann's biggest opening ever, way ahead of the $14.8 million debut of his last movie "Australia," and nearly matched the entire domestic haul of his previous biggest earner, 2001's "Moulin Rouge!"

The director, who also wrote the screenplay, was just part of the movie's audience appeal, according to Dan Fellman, president of distribution at Warner Bros.

"Leo drove it and Jay-Z's music was big factor, too," he told The Wrap, "and it doesn't hurt to have a director with his own star power."

The target demographic was women, and they made up 60 percent women of the audience, with 69 percent over 25 years of age. The premium pricing at the more than 3,000 theaters showing "Gatsby" in 3D helped, but two-thirds of the receipts came from 2D screenings.

Also read: 'Star Trek Into Darkness' Heading Where None Has Gone Before: Foreign Profitability

The big first weekend makes Warner Bros.' decision to shift the release date of the PG-13-rated "Gatsby" — it was originally to debut last Christmas — look like a good one. The stakes were high for the studio. With a production budget of more than $100 million — reduced by tax breaks after the studio switched from New York to Luhrmann's native Australia for much of the filming — it's likely the most expensive costume drama ever.

"This is a unique project — an adaptation of a classic novel — and for it to do this well in the superhero season really in achievement for our team," Fellman said. "We see this as a great counter-programming play over the next weeks."

The weekend's only other wide opener, the low-budget PG-13 "Tyler Perry Presents: Peeples," took in a disappointing $4.8 million for Lionsgate.

Perry's films have on average opened to more than $20 million, but he's only produced on this project. Tina Gordon Chisum, a screenwriter on “Drumline," made her directing debut on the film, which stars Craig Robinson, Kerry Washington and David Alan Grier.