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'Iron Man' vs. 'Grand Theft Auto'

The fourth edition of the video game comes out just a few days before the release of Marvel’s big summer movie; analysts and execs dismiss notion the interactive hit might keep some players from the multiplex

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Robert Downey Jr.
Zade Rosenthal

Lightsabers, secret codes, turbocharged jet packs…videogame buffs and comic-book movie lovers have lots of mutual interests. So at first glance, the April 29 debut of Rockstar Games’ thrill-a-minute Grand Theft Auto IV would seem to pose a problem for Paramount Pictures’ Iron Man, which arrives just three days later. Will action addicts be too busy drooling in front of their flat-screens to turn their attention to Iron Man?

It’s a notion that’s been floated among those who watch box office returns with the intensity of stock market analysts — and been debunked. ”The idea that no one is going to see Iron Man because they will be playing Grand Theft Auto is the dopiest thing I’ve ever heard,” says Wedbush Morgan interactive analyst Michael Pachter. ”It’s like saying if it’s sunny, people won’t go see a matinee.” Adds Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore, ”It’s crazy to think that young males can’t carve out two hours for Iron Man. It’s going to be a great week to be a young guy.” He’s got good reason to be confident: After the release of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas in October 2004, that weekend’s box office (which included the release of Saw) was almost even with the same weekend’s take in 2003.

Of course, as usual, Hollywood wants it both ways. Industry insiders blamed the release of Microsoft’s Halo 3 when Ben Stiller’s The Heartbreak Kid opened weakly last October. So perhaps videogames are good for the film business regardless: They give executives another excuse if their movie bombs.