‘Iron Man 3’ Delivers $174.1 Million Hit to Start Summer

“Iron Man 3” burst into theaters with $174.1 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales, giving Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel division its second straight mega-hit to start a summer movie season.

The opening-weekend haul for the superhero film starring Robert Downey Jr. was the second-biggest of all time, behind “Marvel’s The Avengers” in May 2012, researcher Box-Office said today in a statement. With $504.8 million in international receipts, “Iron Man 3” has collected $678.9 million worldwide in 12 days of release, more than either earlier “Iron Man” generated in its entire theater run.

The performance highlights Disney’s multifilm, multiprong strategy for Marvel, acquired in December 2009 for $4.2 billion, according to David Hollis, executive vice president for motion picture distribution. He credited earlier Marvel pictures that paved the way with fans, characters interwoven among movies and the marketing muscle that Burbank, California-based Disney, the world’s largest entertainment company, brings with its theme parks, TV networks and retail stores.

“It was a very deliberate strategy how they created the unique overlaps and intertwined the characters,” Hollis said yesterday in a telephone interview. “The response has been nothing short of extraordinary.”

Disney’s approach has led moviegoers to consider “Iron Man 3” as a sequel to “The Avengers,” last May’s superhero ensemble that took in $1.51 billion at the global box office, rather than as a follow-up to “Iron Man” and “Iron Man 2,” according to Phil Contrino, chief analyst for

Armored Suit

In the film, the ingenuity and confidence of Downey’s billionaire industrialist character, Tony Stark, are tested after a surprise attack destroys his laboratory and the armored suits he uses to fight villains.

Ben Kingsley stars as The Mandarin, an embittered genius who gains access to advanced technologies. Don Cheadle returns as Stark’s friend, James Rhodes, and Gwyneth Paltrow reprises her role as Pepper Potts.

The success of “Iron Man 3” should carry over to “Thor: The Dark World,” set for release in November, and the next “Avengers,” Hollis said. The “branded tent-pole” film strategy limits Disney’s theatrical risk by focusing on pictures the audience is familiar with, and provides content for Disney’s other divisions, he said.

“Momentum begets momentum,” Hollis said. “They’re all tied together and they all will be higher.”

In addition to “Thor” and the planned 2015 sequel to “The Avengers,” Disney’s Marvel slate includes an April 2014 “Captain America” sequel, and “Ant-Man” in 2015, according to Box Office Mojo.

Summer Prospects

The strong debut for “Iron Man 3” also gives a lift to Hollywood at the start of summer, after an 11 percent decline in domestic ticket sales and attendance so far this year.

“If you can start off in May with a gigantic film like this, you’ve got tens of millions of people exposed to trailers and other materials for ‘‘World War Z,’’ ‘‘After Earth’’ and so on,” said Gitesh Pandya, chief executive officer of “It’s a very positive indicator that we’re going to have a very strong summer season.’

More than 20 films are projected to gross $100 million or more domestically this summer, up from 12 a year earlier, according to Bloomberg Industries research.

The lineup includes a new ‘‘Star Trek” from Viacom Inc.’s Paramount Pictures, “Man of Steel” and a third “Hangover” from Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros., and “The Wolverine,” part of the Marvel “X-Men” series from News Corp.’s Fox.

International Receipts

Pandya, who had expected “Iron Man 3” to sell $165 million in tickets this past weekend, is now forecasting that the movie will gross more than $400 million in North America and $1.3 billion worldwide, based on the opening and favorable word of mouth. That would put it in the top five of all time, according to Box Office Mojo rankings.

The movie, shot partially in China, is on pace to do slightly better than “The Avengers” outside of North America, according to Hollis. The opening day set records in 10 countries, including Russia and in China, where Disney and partner DMG Entertainment released a tailored version with more footage with well-known local stars.

Some 55 percent of domestic “Iron Man 3” theatergoers were over 25 years old and the single-biggest group of attendees was couples, according to Hollis. Family attendance, at 27 percent, exceeded that of “The Avengers” 24 percent, indicating the picture had a broad appeal, he said.

Imax Revenue

Showings at theaters that use Imax Corp.’s large-screen technology grossed about $28.6 million worldwide over the weekend, Imax said today in a statement.

Imax, based in Mississauga, Ontario, was little changed at $27.80 today in New York. Regal Entertainment Group, the largest U.S. theater operator, slipped 1.4 percent to $18.46. Disney advanced 0.4 percent to an all-time closing high of $65.06.

Expectations for “Iron Man 3” were strong enough that Disney used the debut to seek a bigger share of the revenue from from cinema owners, prompting a public showdown that ended just a week before the opening. Hollis declined to discuss details of the negotiations.

“The magnitude of a gross like this is extraordinary for everyone’s bottom line,” Hollis said.

Disney Acquisitions

Disney Chairman and CEO Robert Iger has spent more than $15 billion since 2006, purchasing animation studio Pixar, comic book publisher Marvel Entertainment and Lucasfilm Ltd., home of “Star Wars.”

The company has reduced the number of movies it releases to concentrate on well-known pictures from those studios or familiar content such as July’s “The Lone Ranger,” starring Johnny Depp.

The approach gives Disney the chance to become the first studio to generate more than $2 billion in annual domestic ticket receipts in 2015, said Paul Sweeney, director of North American Research at Bloomberg Industries, citing “Star Wars” and multiple Marvel films. The company will also have a Pixar movie, “Finding Dory,” and a “Pirates of the Caribbean,” based on Box Office Mojo’s list of upcoming releases.

“Historically, Disney’s live action business has been a laggard,” Sweeney said. “They chose to fix it via acquisition. I think we are really going to see the fruits of this strategy in 2015.”

Weekend revenue for the top 12 films fell to $210.9 million from $249.7 million a year earlier, said. Attendance is down 11 percent year to date.

The amounts below are based on actual ticket sales for May to May 5.

                 Rev.               Avg./   Pct.   Total
   Movie        (mln)   Theaters  Theater   Chg.   (mln)   Wks
 1 IRON MAN 3   $174.1    4,253  $40,946     --   $174.1    1
 2 PAIN & GAIN     7.5    3,287    2,285    -63     33.8    2
 3 42              6.1    3,345    1,810    -43     78.2    4
 4 OBLIVION        5.6    3,430    1,645    -68     75.8    3
 5 THE CROODS      4.2    2,915    1,442    -38    168.7    7
 6 THE BIG WEDDING 3.9    2,633    1,474    -49     14.2    2
 7 MUD             2.2      576    3,751     -2      5.2    2
 8 OZ THE GREAT    2.1    1,160    1,822     17    228.9    9
 9 SCARY MOVIE 5   1.4    1,857      776    -58     29.6    4
10 BEYOND PINES    1.3    1,162    1,102    -53     18.7    6
11 G.I.            1.3    1,804      704    -66    118.8    6
12 OLYMPUS         1.2    1,632      732    -58     95.4    7

Top 12 Films Grosses

This Week Year Ago Pct. (mln) (mln) Chg. =================================== $210.9 $249.7 -16

Year-to-date Revenue

2013 2012 YTD YTD Pct. (mln) (mln) Chg. =================================== $3,133 $3,519 -11 Year-to-date Attendance: -11%
(Updates with final weekend totals.)
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