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Sunday, May 11, 2008

'Iron Man' likely to remain box-office champ for another weekend

For “Iron Man,” the sequel is two years away. But the encore comes this weekend. After starting Hollywood's summer with a $98.6-million bang, the Marvel Studios' production should return to the top of the box-office heap with an additional $45 million or more in ticket sales this weekend.

Until recently, Warner Bros.' family-friendly “Speed Racer” had been seen as a potential blockbuster, but the candy-colored, effects-driven adaptation of the 1960s Japanese cartoon show now looks more likely to become the summer's first major misfire.

The live-action movie, a sharp departure for those edgy, dystopian auteurs the Wachowski brothers, could open in the $25-million-to-$30-million range. That would be enough to beat “What Happens in Vegas,” the new Cameron Diaz-Ashton Kutcher romantic comedy, for No. 2, but disappointing in light of the movie's high cost.

Midweek sales have been robust for "Iron Man," starring Robert Downey Jr. as the metal-clad superhero, though they cooled a bit Tuesday and Wednesday. The film has a chance to become one of the extended summer season's few $300-million blockbusters at the domestic box office, thanks to enthusiastic word-of-mouth. Reviews are 93% positive, according to RottenTomatoes.com, and users at IMDB.com rate the movie 8.4 out of 10.

Produced for an estimated $140 million, "Iron Man" launched Marvel Entertainment Inc.'s feature production business in style, although the advance buzz is mixed for the mini-studio's follow-up, "The Incredible Hulk." That's slated for a June 13 release.

"Iron Man" also began the summer on a high note for distributor Paramount Pictures, which gets a slice of the gross after recouping its costs for prints and advertising. Paramount's “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” coming Memorial Day weekend, is tracking for an enormous opening, based on consumer surveys, and on June 6 the studio releases DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc.'s promising "Kung Fu Panda."

This weekend's results could signal whether "Iron Man" will fade quickly, like most of the "X-Men" movies, or hang tough in the marketplace like the first "Spider-Man," "Batman Begins" and "Transformers."

Executives at rival studios expect "Iron Man" to wind up at $270 million domestically, but a drop of less than 50% this weekend would point to a higher total. With sturdy legs, the movie could reach $300 million in the U.S. and Canada and $600 million worldwide.

The superhero's Achilles' heel could be his competition. Two high-profile sequels are coming in the next two weeks, “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian”:-prince-caspian on May 16 and "Indiana Jones" on May 22.

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