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MOVIE PROJECTOR

A superhero for another weekend

'Iron Man' may have sturdy enough legs to outpace 'Speed Racer,' hobbled by weak buzz.

May 09, 2008|Josh Friedman | Times Staff Writer

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.

Overall, consumer tracking for "Speed Racer" is on par with pictures that have opened to $20 million, but the PG-rated adventure may fare better than that because of its appeal to men and boys.

Among 13-to-25-year-old males who say they are definitely going to the movies this weekend, for example, 49% name "Speed Racer" their first choice, according to one poll. Tracking also indicates keen interest among 8-to-12-year-old boys.

The loud, bright movie looks like a turnoff, however, to the moms who can help turn family films such as "Alvin and the Chipmunks" into hits. As one of Projector's neighbors put it after watching the trailer: "It looks like spending 90 minutes trapped inside a Chuck E. Cheese."

Weak word-of-mouth could drag "Speed Racer" down to third place this weekend. The film has only 36% positive reviews, according to Rotten Tomatoes, and an average rating of 6.1 at IMDB.

Through tie-ins sponsored by corporate partners, consumers who spend $25 or more for toys and other "Speed Racer" merchandise at Toys R Us stores get a movie pass, and those who buy the new Nintendo video game get a voucher worth $7.50 at the ticket booth.

"What Happens in Vegas," from Regency Enterprises and 20th Century Fox, is tracking similarly to "Speed Racer" overall, though with stronger appeal to women. It faces competition, however, from two other romantic comedies in the market, "Made of Honor" and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," as well as the female-skewing comedy "Baby Mama."

Fox, with its "Cameron vs. Ashton" ad campaign, is positioning the $35-million production as more of a star vehicle and broad comedy in hope of luring the date crowd.

Sony Pictures Classics' "Redbelt," a martial arts drama from writer-director David Mamet, goes wide in its second weekend after debuting in six New York and Los Angeles theaters.

This action movie figures to crack the top 10, if barely, thanks to an eclectic crowd, including urban sophisticates like Projector and fans of ultimate fighting.

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josh.friedman@latimes.com

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Weekend Forecast

"Iron Man" is likely to dominate the second weekend of Hollywood's summer, while "Speed Racer" could face a fight from "What Happens in Vegas" for No. 2. These figures are The Times' predictions. Studios will issue weekend estimated grosses Sunday and final results Monday.

*--* -- Movie 3-day prediction Through the Weeks -- (studio) (millions) weekend

1 Iron Man (Paramount) $48.5 $175.6 2

2 Speed Racer (Warner Bros.) 27.0 27.0 1

3 What Happens in Vegas (20th 21.0 21.0 1 Century Fox)

4 Made of Honor (Sony) 8.6 27.3 2

5 Baby Mama (Universal) 6.0 40.6 3

6 Forgetting Sarah Marshall 3.8 50.8 4 (Universal)

7 Harold & Kumar Escape 3.1 30.7 3 From Guantanamo Bay (Warner Bros.)

8 Redbelt (Sony Pictures 2.5 2.6 2 Classics)

9 The Forbidden Kingdom 2.2 48.3 4 (Lionsgate/Weinstein)

10 Nim's Island (20th Century 1.7 44.5 6 Fox) *--*

Source: Times research

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