Box Office Preview: Iron Man Launches Summer Movie Season
Made of Honor looks to conquer second place.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.
Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark
Other films that the Stark flick can be compared to are Marvel's previous summer pics that first brought very popular characters to the big screen. In 2000, X-Men generated a July bow of $54.5M ($70M at today's prices). Three years later The Hulk, a better-known character than Iron Man, debuted to $62.1M (also $70M today) in mid-June. In July of 2005, Fantastic Four premiered to $56.1M ($60M at 2008 prices). Those films all opened later in the season and faced stiffer competition from other summer action films. Iron Man, which is in the same ballpark when it comes to popularity, has the multiplexes to itself this weekend.
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.
Iron Man flies into theaters this weekend