"Iron Man 3" was soaring past $1 billion at the worldwide box office Thursday, in a display of world domination that would make one of Marvel's super villains proud.
The box-office bounty – roughly $700 million from abroad and $300 million domestically -- is a major triumph for Disney, which bet big on comic book superheroes when it bought Marvel Studios for $4 billion in 2009. And its decision to bring aboard a Chinese partner for "Iron Man 3" and focus the Disney marketing machine on the booming foreign market looks pretty good right now, too.
"To an extent, It's a sign of the times," Disney's head of distribution Dave Hollis told TheWrap Thursday, referring to the huge recent growth of the international market. "But we had a great movie that was embraced all around the world as the summer's first blockbuster. We had that incredible May Day, the word of mouth was terrific and we're still seeing the effects of that."
Disney made China the cornerstone of the international campaign, despite its protectionist policies and tough censors. The studio partnered with that country's DMG Entertainment on the film, shooting extra footage for a special edition featuring Chinese actress Fan BingBing that was released in that country.
The plan worked -- in a big way. "Iron Man 3" scored the biggest opening day ever and has taken in more than $102 million in China, making it by far the movie's most lucrative foreign market.
The next biggest were Korea ($56 million), the U.K. ($49 million), Mexico ($43 million), Russia ($39 million), Brazil ($38 million), France ($36 million) and Australia ($33 million).
Only 15 other movies have hit the $1 billion plateau. Disney and Marvel's superhero sequel did it in 24 days, not as quickly as their blockbuster "The Avengers," which managed the feat in 19 days of release last year.
"Iron Man 3," which stars Robert Downey Jr. as billionaire Tony Stark, wrote itself into the box-office record books. Its $175 million U.S. debut was the second-largest ever, behind only "The Avengers."
To get to the No. 16 slot on the all-time list, "Iron Man 3' passed "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" ($963 million), "Jurassic Park" ($967 million) and "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" ($975 million).
"Iron Man 3" is the sixth Disney film to reach $1 billion globally. Besides "The Avengers," the others are "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," "Toy Story 3," "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" and "Alice in Wonderland." No other studio has more than two.