A hero flies into North American multiplexes aiming to kickstart what should be an explosive summer movie season. Paramount’s Iron Man is first up to bat this year and is ready to rock the box office and get moviegoers back into the theaters after a lackluster spring season. As a non-sequel, it won’t reach the dizzying heights of last May’s trio of threequels, but the comic book flick will create a new franchise and give audiences starving for excitement something to rally behind. Sony offers an alternative in the form of the wedding-themed romantic comedy Made of Honor which hopes to play to an older and more female crowd. The overall box office will be nowhere near the towering levels of last year when Spider-Man 3 shattered the all-time opening weekend record, but the summer movie season will still get off to a solid start nonetheless with many more blockbusters right around the corner.
Marvel Studios unveils its first self-financed film with Iron Man which stars Robert Downey Jr. as billionaire playboy Tony Stark who becomes the metal-clad super hero after a near-death experience. The PG-13 film also stars Terrence Howard and Jeff Bridges while Gwyneth Paltrow snags the coveted ‘and’ credit. Directed by Jon Favreau, the action film will play to a broad audience although males should outnumber the ladies. The Iron Man character is not as universally known as Spider-Man or Superman so many moviegoers may wait on the sidelines at first. But the comic crowd is big enough that those with a sense of urgency will power the film to stellar numbers this weekend. The marketing push from Paramount and from the film’s promotional partners has been loud and aggressive.
The first weekend of May represents one of the most valuable pieces of real estate on the calendar. History has shown that the right tentpole film can pull in astounding amounts of money given the public’s hunger for a great event film coupled with the fact that no other big movies are out yet. With all other summer contenders still on deck, a film can grab that fourth or fifth screen within a multiplex to absorb all consumer demand upfront. Studios plant their flags early to scare away the competition which is why it should come as no surprise that Fox has already claimed the frame next year for its X-Men Origins: Wolverine while Disney will get May 2010 going with The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
Opening weekend grosses for the biggest early May blockbusters that kicked off the summer before last year include $114.8M for 2002’s Spider-Man, $85.6M for 2003’s X2: X-Men United, and $68.1M for 2001’s The Mummy Returns. All those films were effects-driven action titles that faced zero competition when they debuted and seized control over the maximum possible screens within multiplexes. At today’s ticket prices, those figures would be roughly $135M, $97M, and $82M respectively. Iron Man is in a similar situation as it has a built-in audience even though it’s not a sequel.
Many in the media have speculated that this week’s release of the Grand Theft Auto IV video game will soften Iron Man‘s opening weekend potential because of the vast overlap in audiences. While some small impact may be felt, this should not be too much of an issue since the super hero film is a must-see event movie and fans will find the time to go and see it over the weekend.
Critics have been praising Iron Man as well as its star and director. Strong reviews certainly can’t hurt, but they do not necessarily indicate how big of a blockbuster this will be. The nation’s top critics are mostly in the over-40 demographic which is certainly not the major group that buys tickets for these kinds of movies. So just because Richard Roeper gives a thumbs up, it doesn’t mean that the 15-year-old in Atlanta, the 20-year-old in Phoenix, or the 25-year-old in St. Louis will be satisfied with the product. Sure Downey’s acting is solid as usual, but the film does not pack as much action as fans are expecting and that could hurt in the long run.
Adding to the mix on opening weekend are the early previews that begin at 8pm on Thursday night. Hardcore fans will no doubt rush out to these shows and open up seats over the Friday-to-Sunday period to others who are not in as much of a rush. Last May ahead of the Memorial Day holiday session, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End pulled in a gargantuan $13.2M from its heavily-advertised Thursday night shows starting at the same time. Given the higher anticipation levels and the later date when more college students were on break, that figure will not be matched by Iron Man. Transformers also launched a night early with 8pm shows last July taking in $8.8M on a Monday when students of all ages were out of school. Tony Stark may also come in lower than that figure too given the calendar differences.
Blasting off in more than 3,800 theaters, Iron Man could open to about $77M over the Friday-to-Sunday period and around $83M when adding in Thursday night grosses.
Dempsey has a chance to test his solo starpower at the box office now that’s he’s risen to stardom again thanks to Grey’s Anatomy. However female starpower is lacking as Monaghan is no major draw. Bad reviews will turn away some folks too. Competition will come mostly from Universal’s pair of hit comedies Baby Mama and Forgetting Sarah Marshall which are both pulling in healthy numbers simultaneously. Honor‘s overall marketing push has been strong and has targeted women effectively. Long-term prospects could be iffy given the debut next week of What Happens in Vegas starring Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher. But for now, a solid second place opening right behind the main guest of honor seems appropriate. Entering 2,729 theaters, Made of Honor could collect around $14M this weekend.
Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay scored a solid debut but will face a sharp decline because of the new super hero flick. Plus as a sequel, much of the total audience showed up early. Still by the end of its first full week in theaters it should beat out the $18.2M take that its predecessor Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle earned in its entire theatrical run. Sales could fall by 55% to around $7M putting New Line and Warner Bros. at $26M in ten days.
Universal’s breakup comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall has been holding up well so a 35% drop could be in order. That would give the R-rated hit $7M for the frame and lift the cume to $45M. The Jackie Chan–Jet Li adventure The Forbidden Kingdom should fall harder and decline by 50% to roughly $5.5M. Total would climb to $47M.
LAST YEAR: Demolishing box office records, Spider-Man 3 kicked off the movie season with a jaw-dropping opening weekend gross of $151.1M smashing the all-time record and commanding a stunning 80% of all ticket sales in the marketplace. Sony’s global blockbuster went on to capture $336.5M domestically making it the top-grossing film of 2007, but also the lowest-grossing installment in the webslinger franchise. Overseas was a different story as its international total of $555M and worldwide sum of $892M were both the best in Spidey history. A few scraps were left over for the other films led by three-time chart-topper Disturbia which ranked far back in second with $5.8M. Rounding out the top five were Fracture with $3.7M, The Invisible with $3.3M, and Next with $2.9M. The female-skewing new release designed as counter-programming was the Warner Bros. flop Lucky You which bowed poorly in sixth with $2.7M on its way to a pitiful $5.8M.
Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com