It was big … but not that big.
"Iron Man 2" debuted to $51 million at the domestic box office Friday, according to rival-studio estimates, putting the $200 million Marvel sequel on pace to finish its first weekend with just under $130 million.
Such a finish will secure solid profitability for the $200 million Paramount-distributed title, which has already grossed about $140 million abroad. However, it is well below pre-release tracking predictions that had the Jon Favreau-directed movie breaking "Dark Knight’s" record $158.4 million start in 2008.
In fact, a number of box-office trackers had the film opening at above $160 million (although Paramount’s own estimate was in the $140 million region).
Opening in a record 4,380 theaters, a $130 million start would still give "Iron Man 2" the fifth best domestic premiere in motion-picture history, trailing 2006 Disney hit "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest" ($135.6 million) at No. 4 on that list.
Finishing in second place Friday in its second weekend of release, Warner/New Line horror reboot "A Nightmare on Elm Street" cratered 79 percent to $3.3 million. It’s on pace for a $9.5 million weekend, which would give the $27 million film about $49 million in domestic ticket sales after two weeks.
In third place, Fox’s "Date Night" continued to hold strong after five weeks in theaters, dropping only 35 percent to $1.6 million. It’s on pace to finish its fifth weekend with about $81 million in North American gross.
Likewise, at No. 4, DreamWorks Animation’s "How to Train Your Dragon" dropped only 40 percent in its seventh week to $1.5 million. It’s looking to surpass the $200 million mark in the U.S. and Canada this weekend.
At No. 5, CBS Films’ "The Back-Up Plan" continues to churn its legs, too, grossing $1.4 million Friday. The $35 million J.Lo-fueled romantic comedy could break the $30 million mark by the end of the weekend.
Overall, the domestic box office is pacing about 16 percent ahead of the $148.5 million grossed on the same weekend last year, according to one studio’s estimate.
If “Iron Man 2” is going to break “Dark Knight’s” all-time domestic premiere record of $158.4 million, it’s going to have to make up some ground.
Marvel’s “Iron Man” follow-up grossed $7.5 million at its midnight opening Friday morning, a fraction of the $18.5 million “Dark Knight” grossed at its opening midnight engagements in 2008.
In terms of 12 a.m. runs, however, “Dark Knight” had one key advantage, running in the middle of summer, when a large portion of its audience was out of school.
Opening at a record 4,380 theaters Friday, “Iron Man 2” is predicted by at least one tracking firm to gross $165 million this weekend.
No pressure or anything …
Premiering on a record 4,380 screens in the U.S. and Canada on Friday, starting with about 2,500 or so midnight shows, tracking suggests “Iron Man 2” will enjoy the biggest domestic opening of all time, grossing about $165 million in its first three days.
Understandably, Paramount Pictures officials, who are distributing the $200 million Jon Favreau-directed sequel for Disney-owned Marvel Entertainment in exchange for an undisclosed fee, are tempering those predictions … just a bit.
“We’re going into a market where we’re clearly teed up, but nobody’s out of school yet, and it’s Mother’s Day this weekend,” said Paramount general manager of distribution Don Harris, putting his first-weekend expectations in the $130 million-$140 million range.
Yep, whether it surpasses “The Dark Knight’s” No. 1 all-time $158.4 million domestic opening in 2008, any way you slice it “Iron Man 2” is going to be huge.
The sequel will have the box office largely to itself this weekend, with the Focus Features documentary “Babies” being the only other semi-wide opener at 530 theaters.
“I would be very surprised if on Monday ‘Iron Man 2’ wasn’t on the list of the biggest openings ever,” said Vinnie Bruzzese, president of the worldwide motion picture group for box-office tracker OTX Research. “It’s tracking through the roof.”
According to Bruzzese, the film is hitting so well with all four quadrants of the audience spectrum that even the group that’s least enthusiastic about it, teen girls, is offering up a level of research response that most films would gladly accept from their core demographic.
Pairing star Robert Downey Jr. with a supporting cast that includes Mickey Rourke, Don Cheadle, Gwyneth Paltrow, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlet Johansson and Garry Shandling, “Iron Man 2” has scored reviews that are surprisingly good for a tentpole follow-up, with Rotten Tomatoes aggregating it at 72 percent fresh and the still-influential Roger Ebert referring to it as a “polished, high-ozone sequel.”
The film has already opened abroad in 53 territories, grossing $121.1 million since last Friday and far outstripping the premiere of the 2008 original in every market.
Marketing for the film has been aggressive, with OTX’s Bruzzese noting that the campaign has succeeded in “generating exactly the kind of enthusiasm and excitement you’d want.”
Jointly, Paramount and Marvel spent well over $100 million on global prints and advertising initiatives, with about $65 million of that committed to the domestic market, according to one official with knowledge of the film’s budgets.
“It’s a little different world now,” said one Paramount official, noting that collaboration between Paramount and Marvel has become a bit more silo-ed since the launch of the first “Iron Man,” with Disney having purchased Marvel has year.
With Paramount still committed to distribute the next five Marvel releases, it remains to be seen if an “Iron Man 3” will be immediately forthcoming … and who will distribute it worldwide.
In any event, Paramount and Marvel officials do not appear to be prepping a part-three announcement, should version 2.0 meet or exceed the weekend’s wild expectations.
Meanwhile, officials for both companies seem to have no regrets about releasing the film in 2D, with Harris noting, “I don’t think this movie needed 3D in any way.”
Added Bruzzese: “This movie is immune to the ‘3D or not 3D’ question.”
Kicking off the summer movie season, “Iron Man 2” premieres in a market that hasn’t had a film break the $50 million mark since Warner’s “Clash of the Titans” grossed $61.2 million on the weekend of April 2-4.
As far as smaller (much smaller) openings go this weekend, “Babies” will be joined by Magnolia’s Jack Abramoff documentary, “Casino Jack and the United States of Money.” Sony Classics will also debut R-rated drama “Mother and Child,” which stars Annette Bening, Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smits and Naomi Watts.