Weekend Wrap-Up

Iron Man Solid to Start Summer

By John Hamann

May 4, 2008

Stop! In the name of love!

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Like it or not, it's time for the summer box office season, which is sure to unleash some mega-budget no-brainers to the masses. Paramount's Iron Man went against the grain, getting superlative reviews, and peaking with a fantastic marketing plan right at release. Tracking was way off this weekend - analysts thought the opening weekend might come in at $70 million, with BOP thinking $88 million; however, Iron Man broke out even further, earning an estimated $104.25 million since its opening (with $100.8 coming in the Friday-to-Sunday period) and seriously surpassing expectations.

Iron Man is officially huge. After an extremely strong marketing campaign, the Marvel and Paramount got exactly what they were looking for - a big start to the summer movie season. Iron Man launched to sneak previews on Thursday, and earned $3.5 million, indicating that a strong weekend lay ahead. Originally, estimates had Thursday at $5.5 million, but the studio has officially listed the performance at the $3.5 million number, presumably to add some of that initial total to weekend numbers so that it might cross the $100 million threshold. On Friday, Iron Man rang up a huge $35 million, and because of the breadth of its target audience, it grossed another $37.5 million on Saturday. Sunday is estimated at $28.2 million.

With a $100+ million opening weekend, Iron Man is in some rare company, which is particularly impressive when you consider that the character is a far lesser-known quantity than Spider-Man or Harry Potter. Although Super Bowl ads did nothing for Drillbit Taylor and Will Ferrell's Semi-Pro, Iron Man created decent buzz with an extremely strong ad for the big game, and never looked back. The marketing campaign was then anointed by extremely positive reviews, which set up a potentially huge weekend for Marvel and Paramount. Critics called it smart, something I certainly wasn't expecting, and Iron Man is now a movie I wasn't planning on seeing that is now right up there on my to-do list. At RottenTomatoes, Iron Man earned 146 positive reviews out of a possible 155 for an overall fresh rating of 94% at the time of this writing. The "nation's top critics" score was 92%, which is a huge home run for Marvel and Paramount, as this goes completely against the grain for a comic book movie. Sure, the first two Spider-Man movies came in at 90% and 93% respectively, but the third dipped to 62%. The X-Men franchise saw similar scores, with the first two movies receiving 80% and 87% ratings and the third film dipping to 56%, which indicates to me it's time for new blood in movie comic book land.


We have an unlikely hero in Robert Downey Jr., who, after years of hard living, becomes a superstar as Tony Stark in Iron Man. Like the marketing campaign, Paramount and Marvel put together a perfect team for this potential franchise, taking a chance on Downey, and putting Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges and Terrence Howard in as supporting players. The studios also went out on a limb by hiring director John Favreau, who had a big hit with Elf, but a fairly serious miss with Zathura.

Iron Man finishes the weekend with the tenth biggest opening weekend of all time. It had the ninth biggest opening in terms of playdates with 4,105 venues (and a venue average of $24,543). Iron Man is the eighth biggest May opener ever, and this is the biggest opening ever for the first weekend in May - at least for films that don't have ‘Spider-Man' in the title. It's also the second $100 million earner in 2008 - after just a few days.

Iron Man wasn't a cheap endeavor. There was a lot riding on its success as Marvel Studios was self-financing for the first time on Iron Man, with Paramount strictly a distributor and paying for prints and advertising. The Hollywood Reporter says the budget on Iron Man was $150 million, and with prints and advertising, the total was over $225 million. With the domestic success and a whopping $96.7 million coming from international markets this weekend, Iron Man looks to be a huge win. On the domestic front, $250 million is certainly in play to due to positive word-of-mouth, and overseas totals should be even higher. It will be interesting to see how Iron Man performs against Speed Racer next weekend, but Iron Man will definitely be a speed bump for the Warner Bros. release.

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