Tony Stark rules. Iron Man 2, continuing the adventures of the zillionaire industrialist-scientist who makes himself a new heart and a nifty suit to encase it in, jump-started the summer blockbuster season with a Mother's Day weekend take of $133.6 million, according to early studio estimates. Eschewing the filigree, and thus the higher ticket prices, of three dimensions, Iron Man 2-D still had the fifth highest opening in North American movie history, after The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 3, Twilight Saga: New Moon and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest all of which were released in the old-fashioned flat format.
If you wonder, with a sigh, why Hollywood is awash in retreads, just consider the math. Of the top 25 opening weekends, sequels fill all but five slots: Alice in Wonderland, the first Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Harry Potter films and The Passion of the Christ. These five exceptions all had brand recognition from the get-go, being based on a famous children's book, a comic book or a Good Book. And we wouldn't be surprised if some studio mogul hadn't begged Mel Gibson to make The Resurrection of the Christ.
The Marvel smarty-hero has already earned nearly $200 million abroad; Paramount opened the film a week early in the rest of the world (excluding Japan) to avoid competition with the World Cup, which will dominate fans' interest for a month beginning June 11. "Many countries come to a standstill during the World Cup games, especially if the home team is playing," Veronika Kwan-Rubinek, Warner Bros. international distribution president, told the Hollywood Reporter. "In the football-crazy countries, theater admissions are down dramatically on the days of the games, and event movies that need a male audience suffer." Stay tuned to see how the World Cup will affect the worldwide grosses of blockbuster wannabes like Shrek Forever After and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
Compared with Iron Man 2's magnetic gross, all other box-office returns were puny; the other films in the top 10 earned less than $40 million. But How to Train Your Dragon and Date Night held on to their respective audiences, with the DreamWorks cartoon passing the $200 million domestic mark and the Tina FeySteve Carell rom-com-disaster movie topping $80 million. Among 2010 releases, Dragon is the third biggest hit worldwide, having earned more than $400 million globally. It follows Alice in Wonderland at $960 million and Clash of the Titans at $432 million. Iron Man 2 will pass Dragon and Clash within a week or so; it's aiming for a billion worldwide.
Now, what to get Mom for Mother's Day? "Buy her candy or some flowers or a brand-new hat," Tom Lehrer suggested in his jaunty old song "Oedipus Rex." Or, two distributors hoped, take her to a nice new indie film with maternal inclinations. The docu-dorable Babies, which traces the lives of four infants around the world, opened in 535 theaters and earned $1.6 million to snag 10th place for the weekend. The other debut, Mother and Child, Rodrigo Garcia's soft-focus triptych starring Annette Bening, Naomi Watts and Kerry Washington, earned $44,488 on four screens.
Elsewhere in the Lilliput of indie movies, where successful grosses are measured in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, not the hundred millions, the faux-doc Exit Through the Gift Shop ascended to a total of $934,415 in its fourth week, according to IndieWire's Peter Knegt; and the Michael Caine drama Harry Brown inched up to $381,070 in its second week. The Iron Man of indies remains The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, now nearing $5 million in domestic ticket sales (and a sensational $88 million abroad, mostly in Europe).
But the big news in specialized movies was the spiffy restoration of Fritz Lang's 1927 Metropolis, which earned an astounding $20,000 this weekend at Manhattan's Film Forum rep house. The silent-film parable, about a titan of industry and a mad-genius scientist who creates a robot human, could be the blueprint for Iron Man and a thousand other science-fiction epics. Eighty-three years after its premiere, Metropolis is still connecting with audiences. We wonder if Iron Man 2 will do the same in the year 2093.
Here are the Sunday estimates of the weekend's top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. Iron Man 2, $133.6 million, first weekend
2. A Nightmare on Elm Street, $9.2 million; $48.5 million, second week
3. How to Train Your Dragon, $6.8 million; $201.1 million, seventh week
4. Date Night, $5.3 million; $80.9 million, fifth week
5. The Back-Up Plan, $4.3 million; $29.4 million, third week
6. Furry Vengeance, $4 million; $11.6 million, second week
7. Clash of the Titans, $2.3 million; $157.8 million, sixth week
8. Death at a Funeral, $2.1 million; $38.3 million, fourth week
9. The Losers, $1.8 million; $21.45 million, third week
10. Babies, $1.6 million, first week