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Box Office Guru Wrapup: Wolverine Has Huge $87M Opening

The X-Men spin-off opens blockbuster season with a bang.

by | May 3, 2009 | Comments

Fox’s super hero spinoff X-Men Origins: Wolverine crushed the competition and ruled the global box office kicking off the summer movie season with a scorching debut. The romantic comedy Ghosts of Girlfriends Past opened reasonably well in second place helping the overall marketplace match the same weekend a year ago when Iron Man got 2008’s record summer season started.


Wolverine generated a ferocious opening weekend grossing an estimated $87M over the Friday-to-Sunday period from a studio record 4,099 theaters for a sizzling $21,225 average. Starring Hugh Jackman who also produced, the PG-13 prequel tells the origin story of the popular X-Men character and successfully launched a new series of spinoffs for a decade-old franchise that previously grossed $606.6M domestically across its last three installments.

The opening ranked as the eleventh best for May, the strongest month of the year when it comes to debuts. However it was the fourth largest when looking at the first weekend of May when the summer movie season traditionally kicks off. Only fellow comic book pics Spider-Man 3 ($151.1M in 2007), Spider-Man ($114.8M in 2002), and Iron Man ($98.6M) have fared better. The Wolverine bow is also the third largest in studio history for Fox trailing Star Wars Episode III ($108.4M) and X-Men: The Last Stand ($102.8M).

Directed by Gavin Hood (Tsotsi), Wolverine got off to a muscular start with $35M in ticket sales on Friday. Saturday dropped by 15% to $29.8M while Sunday is estimated to fall by 25% to $22.3M. During their opening weekends, Saturday-to-Sunday declines were 30% for Iron Man and 22% for Spider-Man 3. The audience for the new tale was 53% male and 52% over 25.


A pirated copy of Wolverine surfaced online a month ago and may have had an impact on sales this weekend. Although there has been much speculation, no hard data exists pinpointing how much in ticket sales was lost. The source of the leaked early copy has not been found.

Looking at past summer kickoff films, the Origins opening weekend gross most resembled the $85.6M of X2: X-Men United from 2003, although ticket prices have risen by 21% since that year. By comparing admissions, Wolverine sold about as many tickets as 2001’s The Mummy Returns which debuted to $68.1M which translates to roughly $88M at today’s ticket prices. Both sold about 12 million stubs in their first three days.

Still, for an X-Men movie stripped of popular characters like Storm, Magneto, Professor X, and Rogue, Wolverine managed to stand on its own two feet and pull in numbers in line with franchise history. But without so many expensive actors demanding raises with each new installment, the cost was lower this time – $130M after tax credits from shooting in Australia are factored in. The first three mutant films were all shot in Canada with the initial installment opening to $54.5M in July of 2000. Last Stand carried a hefty reported price tag of $210M.

Fox and Marvel are developing an origin film for Magneto which is planned for a 2011 release. That same year, the comic book giant also aims to release the big screen adventures Captain America and Thor through Paramount and Spider-Man 4 through Sony.

Wolverine had sharp claws overseas too with a spectacular day and date launch that pulled in an additional $73M from over 9,000 screens in 101 markets making for a colossal $160M opening around the world. Next weekend, grosses are expected to drop sharply as Paramount invades theaters globally with its highly-anticipated sci-fi origin tale Star Trek.


For those not interested in super hero battles, Warner Bros. offered the Matthew McConaugheyJennifer Garner wedding-themed comedy Ghosts of Girlfriends Past which debuted in second place with an estimated $15.3M from 3,175 locations for a decent $4,827 average. It was a respectable debut for a romantic comedy and slightly exceeded the chick flick offering Made of Honor which countered Iron Man this weekend last year with a $14.8M bow. However, Ghosts failed to come close to the $20M mark which most McConaughey romance vehicles tend to break.

His 2003 hit How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days with Kate Hudson opened to $23.8M, the 2006 pic Failure to Launch with Sarah Jessica Parker bowed to $24.4M, and last year’s action-comedy Fool’s Gold with Hudson debuted with $21.6M. Reviews were predictably negative and some fans may have passed on the chance to see McConaughey play a cocky but lovable hunk for the umpteenth time. The studio is hoping Ghosts, which reportedly cost $50M to produce, will keep running throughout the early summer weeks since the rest of May has virtually no date movies or female-skewing comedies.


Sony’s hit thriller Obsessed dropped from first to third and lost 57% of its opening weekend business grossing an estimated $12.2M pushing the ten-day cume to $47M. The decline was on the high end of what films of the type generally see and the cume to date is impressive for a $20M-budgeted pic. Look for star/executive producer Beyoncé to reach a stellar $70M by the end of the domestic run.

In its third weekend, Zac Efron‘s 17 Again dropped 45% to an estimated $6.4M giving Warner Bros. $48.5M to date. Paramount enjoyed the smallest drop in the top ten with DreamWorks Animation’s 3D toon Monsters vs. Aliens which took in another $5.8M in its sixth adventure, according to estimates, boosting the total for the year’s top-grossing blockbuster to $182.4M.

Robert Downey Jr., the king of the box office one year ago, settled for sixth place with his disappointing violinist drama The Soloist which dipped 42% to an estimated $5.6M for $18.1M in ten days. Paramount’s $60M DreamWorks/Universal co-production which also stars Jamie Foxx should stumble to a $30M final tally and may be a tough sell overseas too. Disney’s nature documentary Earth followed with an estimated $4.2M, down 53%, putting the 12-day sum at $21.8M. The final gross should approach $30M as well, a solid figure for a non-fiction pic.


Universal’s tough guy flick Fighting dropped a hefty 62% in its second round to an estimated $4.2M. With $17.5M in ten days, look for a decent $25M by the end of the run. The G-rated fun of Hannah Montana The Movie followed declining 37% to an estimated $4.1M putting Disney at $70.9M. The girlpower flick has surpassed the $65.3M of last year’s 3D concert film Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds. Rounding out the top ten was State of Play which grossed an estimated $3.7M, down 47%, for a $30.9M total for Universal.

Wolverine kicked two of April’s action sequels out of the top ten this weekend. Vin Diesel’s franchise pic Fast & Furious grossed an estimated $2.7M, down 56%, and raised its stellar cume to $149.8M to become the year’s second-biggest grosser and top-performing live-action film – for now. Universal has found that the fourth time is a charm as the new Furious has become the highest-grossing installment in the eight-year-old series. Look for a $155M domestic finish. Overseas, Fast & Furious captured an estimated $6.7M this weekend boosting the international total to $182.4M and the global gross to a stunning $332M.

Attracting a slightly smaller audience was Crank High Voltage which collapsed by 82% this weekend to an estimated $466,000 domestically. Lionsgate has taken in just $13.3M in 17 days and should conclude with a lackluster $14M for its Jason Statham vehicle, or half of the $27.8M total that 2006’s Crank took in.


Crashing and burning with the worst opening of 2009 for a wide release was the animated sci-fi film Battle for Terra which stumbled to an estimated $1.1M from 1,162 theaters for a pitiful $916 average. The PG-rated film from Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate tells the story of humans trying to conquer a new planet for their survival. Moviegoers found no reason to pay top dollar to see this on the big screen.

Focus saw a strong platform debut for its crime thriller The Limits of Control which grossed an estimated $54,233 from only three locations for a sturdy $18,078 average. Directed by Jim Jarmusch, the R-rated film stars Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, and Gael Garcia Bernal and did well despite weak reviews. Business for new independent films in general has been horrendous this year so Limits hopes to find some early summer success from arthouse crowds not in the mood for mutants, Vulcans, or terminators.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $148.4M which was exactly even with last year when Iron Man opened in the top spot with $98.6M; but was down 17% from 2007 when Spider-Man 3 debuted at number one with a then-record $151.1M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya

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