"Iron Man" gets heavy start at box office
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Iron Man," the latest Marvel comics title brought to the big screen, grossed an estimated $32.5 million from its first full day in North American theaters, independent box office analysts reported on Saturday.
That tally, generated from Friday showings in some 4,100 U.S. and Canadian cinemas, put "Iron Man" on track to meet or exceed the $85 million-plus opening weekends posted by sequels to two other Marvel franchises -- "Spider-Man" and "X-Men."
"Iron Man" stars Robert Downey Jr. as a billionaire industrialist and playboy named Tony Stark who wrestles with a midlife crisis as he invents a high-tech suit of armor that transforms him into a superhero.
The movie, which cost about $150 million to make and another $75 million to market, co-stars Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow and has drawn mostly favorable reviews.
Distributed through Viacom Inc's Paramount Pictures, the film is the first self-financed production from Marvel Studios and is being closely watched as the first major release of the summer movie season.
The 18-weekend stretch from May through August can account for as much as 40 percent of Hollywood's total domestic box office receipts for a year.
Neither Paramount nor Marvel issued first-day figures for "Iron Man."
But two box office tracking services, Media By Numbers and Box Office Mojo, both reported the film's estimated Friday take at $32.5 million, not including receipts from Thursday night "preview" screenings in more than 2,000 theaters.
Media By Numbers estimated preview grosses at about $6 million; Box Office Mojo put that number at $5.5 million.
"Iron Man's" opening Friday haul puts in on par with "X2: X-Men United," which grossed $31.2 million its first Friday and went on to amass $85.6 million in receipts through its first Sunday, all in the same May weekend five years ago.
If Friday's estimates hold up, Media By Numbers president Paul Dergarabedian said he expects "Iron Man" to best "X2" and perhaps even meet or surpass the $88.2 million grossed by "Spider-Man 2" in its first weekend in July 2004.
"It might be a little higher than 'X-2' because I think this one's going to have better word of mouth than that movie," Dergarabedian said. "Whether it beats 'Spider-Man 2' remains to be seen."
"Spider-Man 3" holds the record for biggest opening weekend of all time, $151 million last May, while the first "Spider-Man" stands at No. 1 for a non-sequel film -- $114.8 million in the first weekend of May 2002.
(Editing by Doina Chiacu)