Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment gave themselves a fancy gift for Father’s Day: Man of Steel, the new Superman origins movie with a production price tag of at least $200 million. The corporate dads hope to be paid back fivefold, with a billion-dollar worldwide gross. They’ve made a strong start, as this robust reboot of the original superhero franchise earned $113.1 million in its first three days at North American theaters, and $125.1 million including Walmart promotional screenings on Thursday evening, according to preliminary estimates.
If the Friday-to-Sunday figure holds, Man of Steel will set a record for the top June opening, beating Toy Story 3’s $110.3 million three years ago. In the past 12 months, only two pictures have opened better: The Dark Knight Rises at $160.9 million last July and Iron Man 3 at $174.1 million last month. One Marvel comic-book movie, one DC.
[MONDAY UPDATE: In final figures released this afternoon, Man of Steel upped its weekend total to $116.9 million, a sturdy 3% increase over the Sunday estimate, and to $128.7 million for the first four days of domestic release. Happy Father’s Day, Jor-El and Jonathan Kent — also Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment. This Is the End ended at $20.7 million, 1% above its prediction. In fact, all top 12 movies this weekend finished higher than expected. So did indie debuts The Bling Ring (up 1.4% to $212,987) and 20 Feet from Stardom (up 4.6% to $54,596). Only the fairly wide expansion of Before Midnight failed to meet its Sunday guesstimate; it earned $1.4 million, or nearly 10% below the number reported yesterday.]
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In a golden frame for new movies, Seth Rogen’s goofball-freak-out comedy This Is the End grossed $20.5 million over the weekend and $32.8 million (almost exactly its full budget) since its Wednesday debut. The three-day take for all films was about 60% higher than the same weekend last year, when, granted, the two new attractions — Tom Cruise in Rock of Ages ($14.4 million) and Adam Sandler in That’s My Boy ($13.5 million) — attracted almost no one. Among this weekend’s holdovers, Now You See Me held strong ($10.3 million) to finish third, and Furious 6 propelled on fumes ($9.4 million) to fourth place.
DC, which launched its Superman character in 1938 and Batman a year later, has long languished in the shadow of upstart Marvel Studios as a fashioner of movie megablockbusters. While Marvel superheroes — Spider-Man, Iron Man and the Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four — multiplied in the multiplexes like so many Kardashian beaus and babies, DC concentrated on recycling its two main movie guys, now in their 70s (with one-offs of Green Lantern and Watchmen). Having entrusted Batman to director Christopher Nolan for the three Dark Knight films that grossed, in order, $374.2 million, $1.004 billion and $1.084 billion worldwide, DC and Warner Bros. set Nolan up as producer of the new Superman prequel directed by Watchmen’s Zack Snyder. The hefty gamble now seems a smart bet.
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Beginning with the birth of Kal-El on Krypton, and tracing his growth to godly manhood, or manly godhood, under the tutelage of his birth father (Russell Crowe) and his earth father (Kevin Costner) and getting him to his Daily Planet job only in the final scene, writer David S. Goyer dressed up Brit actor Henry Cavill as a superhero with an identity crisis. Reviews for the super-serioso PG-13 film were mixed — a 55 score on Metacritic — but audiences were enthusiastic: an A-minus rating from the CinemaScore survey of first-nighters, with attendees who were under 18 or over 50 handing the film an A (suggesting that moviegoers in their prime years were B-ish). IMAX and 3-D screenings accounted for 41% of the take from the big weekend crowd, which skewed male (56%) and older (62% over the age of 25).
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Man of Steel was seen as an atonement of sorts for the last Kal-Clark epic seven summers ago. Superman Returns, directed by X-Men’s Bryan Singer, cost a perilous $270 million to produce, and spawned no sequels, but it grossed more money on its opening weekend than Nolan’s Batman Begins ($52.5 million to $48.7 million, respectively), and finished with a higher worldwide total ($391.2 million). Factoring in inflation and 3-D surcharges, Superman Returns is in the Man of Steel ballpark — though it hit a fly ball to the warning track instead of a home run.
The producers cannily hedged their risk by getting more than 100 promotional partners to kick in some $160 million so that their Chrysler cars, Sears stores, Nokia phones and IHOP restaurants could be plugged briefly onscreen. Moviegoers didn’t seem to mind the subliminal commercials. Now the movie needs to parlay its domestic success into an international hit; it opened to a muscular $71 million in 24 foreign markets.
If Man of Steel can leap the billion-dollar threshold in a single summer bound, that will encourage Warner Bros. not just to spin out sequels — more Tales From the Kryptonite — but also to make big-budget movies featuring DC’s Justice League characters, with Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow and many others joining Supe and Bat. Goyer worked on a Green Arrow script five years ago. Momentum, hope and greed could green-light that project in a trice.
Speaking of green: two years ago, Rogen turned the ’30s radio superhero Green Hornet into a louche approximation of himself in a 3-D B movie. For This Is the End, he convened a Justice League of his co-star pals (James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Jay Baruchel) to play dumbed-down, A-hole versions of themselves in a pre-rapture, stoner farce — kind of Apotalypse Now. The scheme paid off, with the first-weekend tally about the same as earned by the Rogen-Franco-McBride-Robinson Pineapple Express ($23.2 million) and the Rogen-Sandler Funny People ($22.7 million). The audience, whose demographic reflected the movie’s frat-party vibe — 60% male, 48% under 25 — gave This Is the End a B-plus CinemaScore.
Among new indie films, Sofia Coppola’s docu-farce The Bling Ring swiped $210,001 on five screens, for a $42,000 per-screen average — better than last weekend’s $33,000 PSA for Much Ado About Nothing. In fact, Joss Whedon’s contemporary reading of the Shakespeare rom-com made more money last weekend in five theaters ($171,842) than it did this time on 23 screens ($163,000). Another European romance, Before Midnight, expanded aggressively from 52 theaters to 897 and hit the mass-market wall: just $1.5 million, for a skimpy $1,701 PSA. A much more modest debut — 20 Feet From Stardom, the Weinstein Co. doc on pro-rock backup singers — scored a tuneful $52,000 in three venues.
Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. Man of Steel, $113.1 million, first weekend; $125.1 million, first four days
2. This Is the End, $20.5 million; $32.8 million, first five days
3. Now You See Me, $10.3 million; $80 million, third week
4. Furious 6, $9.4 million; $219.6 million, fourth week
5. The Purge, $8.2 million; $51.8 million, second week
6. The Internship, $7 million; $31 million, second week
7. Epic, $6 million; $95.4 million, fourth week
8. Star Trek Into Darkness, $5.7 million; $210.5 million, fifth week
9. After Earth, $3.8 million; $54.2 million, third week
10. Iron Man 3, $2.9 million; $399.6 million, seventh week