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‘Iron Man 3’ Earns $15.6M in Midnight Showings

Superhero sequel could earn $160 million this weekend

"Iron Man 3" is dominating the domestic box office and getting the summer blockbuster season off to a roaring start.

The hotly anticipated superhero sequel racked up $15.6 million from 3,000 locations in Thursday night showings. That sterling late-night debut falls just short of the $18.7 million earned by last year's "The Avengers" in its initial midnight showings. It does, however, outpace the $7.5 million that 2010's "Iron Man 2" generated during its midnight run.

"Iron Man 3" will expand to 4,253 locations over the weekend. It is projected to gross between $135 million to $160 million.

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Though massive, those figures would put "Iron Man 3" behind "The Avengers," which shattered records with its $207.4 million domestic debut. It could eclipse the second highest grossing opening of all time, however — a slot currently occupied by  "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2" and its $169.2 million initial weekend.

The film, which stars franchise regulars Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow, as well as newcomer Ben Kingsley as the villainous Mandarin, was shot for a reported $200 million.

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It already made much of its production and marketing budget back overseas, where it has grossed more than $340 million overseas since opening in dozens of foreign markets last week. Though it may not shatter box office records set by "The Avengers," "Iron Man 3" is already outshining other Marvel films. Internationally, the film has already passed the worldwide box office of "Captain America" ($192 million), "Iron Man" ($267 million), "Thor" ($268 million) and "Iron Man 2" ($312 million), indicating foreign audiences' taste for Tony Stark has only intensified with each installment.

In the history of midnight releases, "Iron Man 3" barely threatened the benchmarks set by films in the "Harry Potter" and "Twilight" franchises. "Deathly Hallows, Part 2" brought in a whopping $43.5 million at midnight shows in 2011 and ""The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2" made $30.4 million in midnight shows on its way to a $138.1 million debut.