Men in Black 3 Singes The Avengers

The revival of a Will Smith franchise slips past the Marvel men

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Columbia Pictures

Call Will Smith the Fresh King of the Box Office. The 43-year-old star, absent from the screen since 2008, revived or disinterred one of his old franchises and, just like that, The Avengers was felled. Men in Black 3, the spy-fi comedy costarring Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin and a lot of uggy aliens, took in $55 million on the first three days of the Memorial Day weekend at North American theaters, according to preliminary studio estimates.

After three ultra-dominant weeks, The Avengers slipped to No. 2, but it’s still doing fine. The $37 million it amassed in the first three days of its fourth weekend is higher than the opening weekend grosses of all but five films this year: The Vow, Safe House, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, The Hunger Games and of course MIB3. After 24 days of U.S. release, the Marvel movie is fourth on all-time domestic list, with $513.7 million (closing in on the third-place the Dark Knight), and fourth worldwide, with $1.3 billion (just behind Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2). Only Avatar and Titanic are above them — way above — on both charts. At the worldwide box office, Avatar grossed more than twice what The Avengers has so far.

[MONDAY UPDATE: The full four-day-weekend estimates, issued today, have Men in Black 3 at $70 million, and The Avengers at $46.9 million, for Friday to Monday. Sony-Columbia claims $133.2 million for MIB3 in foreign countries, for a four-day worldwide total of $203.2 million. The domestic box-office chart at the end of this report has been updated to include the four-day holiday totals.]

The battle between the Black men and the musclemen was no clash of the titans. It was a case of an O.K. sequel catching an aging blockbuster — less Ali-Forman than Spinks-Ali. Industry insiders had forecast an MIB3 premiere closer to $90 million. The movie’s three-day total was less than the opening numbers for Smith’s Hancock and I Am Legend, and in real dollars far below the debuts of the star’s Independence Day, the first two Men in Black chapters and I, Robot. The film pulled in $122 million abroad through Sunday, but will have to keep on chugging to make a significant profit, given the reported $300-million budget. Its weekend domestic audience, which skewed male (54%) and older (56% over 25), gave the picture a solid B-plus rating when polled by CinemaScore.

(MORE: Mary Pols’ review of Men in Black 3)

Beneath the ecstatic Avengers headlines, studio execs are reading the small print, and realizing that no other major release this month has clicked with audiences. The second highest-grossing May movie is Dark Shadows, which has earned a dank $64.9 million. So for the first year since 2005, when ticket prices and thus box-office revenue were much lower, only one May movie has made as much as $100 million by the last Sunday of the month. From 2007 to 2011, the average was three $100-million films each May. If Dark Shadows had been released in May 2009 and earned the same amount, it would be in seventh place for the month, behind Star Trek, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Angels & Demons, Night at the Museum 2, Terminator Salvation and, in its first weekend, Up. This year Hollywood has produced one mammoth hit and a flotilla of flops. Except for The Avengers’ distributor Disney, that’s rotten news.

(MORE: Richard Corliss’s review of The Avengers)

The good news comes in smaller packages. Moonrise Kingdom, the Wes Anderson kinda comedy that was the opening-night attraction at the Cannes Film Festival, landed in four U.S. theaters this weekend and amassed a record-breaking $509,000, or more than $125,000 per screen. That average tops the $100,000 per-screen average for last year’s Cannes opening-nighter, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, which went on to earn $56.8 million for the highest indie-film gross of 2011. Moonrise Kingdom didn’t win any prizes at Cannes, but if the movie should top Midnight in Paris over the long run, Anderson will happily accept box-office gold instead of the Golden Palm. Except for the $52 million earned by The Royal Tenenbaums, no Anderson film has recorded a domestic gross of as much as $25 million. [UPDATE: The film's four-day total is an over-the-moon $669,000. It has also earned $1.4 million in France since its release May 16.]

(MORE: Corliss’s review from Cannes of Moonrise Kingdom)

The French comedy-drama The Intouchables, Europe’s all-time top-grossing “foreign-language” film, opened in four theaters and scored promising numbers: $101,000, for a $25,250 per-screen average. [UPDATE: The four-day gross is $137.4 million, or $34,350 per screen.]

(MORE: Corliss’s review of The Intouchables)

Here are the Monday estimates of this holiday weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, with totals for three days (Friday to Sunday) and four days (Friday to Monday), as tabulated by Box Office Mojo:

1. Men in Black 3, $55 million, first three days; $70 million, first four days

2. The Avengers, $37 million, three days; $46.9 million, four days; $523.6 million, fourth week

3. Battleship, $10.8 million, three days; $13.8 million, four days; $47.3 million, second week

4. The Dictator, $9.6 million; $11.8 million, four days; $43.6 million, second week

5. Chernobyl Diaries, $8 million, first three days; $9.3 million, four days

6. Dark Shadows, $7.5 million, three days; $9.4 million, four days; $64.9 million, third week

7. What to Expect When You’re Expecting, $7.15 million; $8.85 million, four days; $23.9 million, second week

8. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, $6.35 million, three days; $8.2 million, four days; $18.4 million, fourth week

9. The Hunger Games, $2.3 million, three days; $3 million, four days; $396 million, tenth week

10. Think Like a Man, $1.4 million, three days; $1.8 million, four days; $88.7 million, sixth week

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