Robert Downey Jr.'s Marvel comic adaptation exceeded expectations in earning $98.6 mil over three days, the second-best non-sequel opening ever
Iron Man
Credit: Zade Rosenthal

The 2008 summer movie season started off on a historic note as Iron Man opened with huge box office numbers that propelled it to a weekend win and landed it in the company of the most impressive movie premieres of all time. The Marvel comic adaptation grossed $101 million from Friday to Sunday, according to early estimates. When Thursday evening’s screenings are added in, the film’s full weekend total comes to $104 mil.

Needless to say, that’s a huge debut, much bigger than pretty much any prognosticator had predicted. Unspooling in a whopping 4,105 theaters, Iron Man enjoyed the 10th-best three-day opening ever, the 10th movie premiere to exceed $100 mil, and the No. 2 debut of all time for a non-sequel (behind only Spider-Man‘s $114.8 mil). And when you consider just superhero flicks, this movie scored the fourth top opening in history, following those of Spider-Man 3 ($151.1 mil), Spider-Man ($114.8 mil), and X-Men: The Last Stand ($102.8 mil) — all of which are Marvel properties, though Iron Man is the first film to be fully financed by the comic studio. (Teensy caveat: Though Iron Man‘s all-time rankings likely wouldn’t be affected, its weekend total could drop below $100 mil when Paramount releases final numbers on Monday.) Oh, and overseas, the action-fantasy brought in an additional $96.7 mil, propelling its worldwide total to $201 mil in five days.

To call this the biggest opener ever for star Robert Downey Jr. is an understatement: The actor has never even fronted a movie that grossed $100 mil during its entire run, let alone in one weekend. It’s also a big boost for director Jon Favreau, who had yet to truly capitalize on his previous hit, Elf, which bowed in 2003 with $31.1 mil, before topping out at $173.4 mil. Iron Man succeeded on the strength of wide critical approval and a stellar CinemaScore grade of A from audiences. Interestingly, however, it did all this despite failing to appeal to what industry insiders call ”all four quadrants” — that is, its audience was not evenly divided between men and women, young people and older folks (a whopping 71 percent of ticket buyers were men and 64 percent were over the age of 25). Still, with such substantial goodwill added to the press that it generates from this big bow, Iron Man may just repeat at No. 1 when it goes up against Speed Racer next weekend.

Meanwhile, this frame’s other freshman film, Patrick Dempsey’s Made of Honor, banked a respectable $15.5 mil at No. 2. Talk about successful counterprogramming, the romantic comedy drew a crowd that was three-quarters female — almost exactly the opposite of Iron Man‘s audience. But those ticket buyers gave Made of Honor a merely okay B+ CinemaScore grade, so don’t expect the film to hold up particularly well against next Friday’s new rom-com, What Happens in Vegas.

A handful of holdovers rounded out the top five: Baby Mama (No. 3 with $10.3 mil), Forgetting Sarah Marshall (No. 4 with $6.1 mil), and Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (No. 5 with $6 mil, on a disappointing 60 percent decline). And two movies in limited release opened with nice numbers: David Mamet’s ultimate fighting thriller Redbelt enjoyed a strong $11,441 average in six theaters, while the English indie Son of Rambow averaged $10,510 in five locations.

Overall, the box office was down about 13 percent from the same frame a year ago — but a drop was inevitable since Spider-Man 3 spun the biggest opening of all time on this weekend last year. So, in actual fact, that the decline was only 13 percent and not much more is yet another thing for folks in Hollywood to be happy about today.

MONDAY UPDATE: The weekend’s final figures are out and, indeed, Iron Man did not clear the $100 mil mark during its first three days of release. Rather, it topped out at a feverish $98.6 mil — still a huge debut that defied expectations and ranks the Marvel comic movie’s debut among the all-time best. Of course, we know how much those folks in Hollywood like pretty round numbers, so this news could be received with the eensy-teensiest bit of disappointment. Then again, when those late screenings from Thursday evening are added in, the film’s three-and-a-half-day opening total rises back up to $102.1 mil. So expect that to be the number you hear all about from now on, as Marvel plans the sequel.

Iron Man
  • Movie
  • 125 minutes