The 2013 summer box office officially commenced on Wednesday as Marvel Studios and Disney's Iron Man 3 began rolling out at the foreign box office, where it is projected to collect north of $110 million between now and Sunday.
Returning Robert Downey Jr. in the title role, Iron Man 3 is opening internationally a week ahead of its North American debut on May 3, similar to Iron Man 2, which posted a foreign opening of roughly $100 million in 2010.
Based on tracking, Iron Man 3 could open between $135 million and $145 million in North America, ahead of the $128.1 million debut of Iron Man 2 three years ago.
Disney has high hopes for the threequel -- directed by franchise newcomer Shane Black -- although the studio has yet to resolve a prickly battle with select U.S. theater owners over terms.
In the latest development, Regal Entertainment pulled all marketing and promotional materials for the pic from its 580 theaters in 42 states, including trailers.
And in many areas, it's nearly impossible to purchase advance tickets for Iron Man 3 since Regal and AMC Entertainment, two of the country's three largest circuits, yanked tickets early last week (nor are advance ticket sales available for Cinemark, the No. 1 exhibitor, although it's not clear whether or not whether they are balking).
Neither Disney, Regal nor AMC would comment on the negotiations, which continued even as Disney and Marvel hosted the Los Angeles premiere of the tentpole Wednesday night, although most in Hollywood believe the dispute will be resolved. (All was friendly on the premiere's red carpet Wednesday night, where Regal Cinemas dispatched a camera crew to cover the event in Hollywood.)
If AMC and Regal stand firm and refuse to accept Disney's new terms, it would be a major blow for the movie.
Studio insiders say its been seven years since Disney revisited the split of box office earnings with theater owners, and that in that time, it has upped its profile by acquiring Pixar, Marvel and now LucasFilm.
Overseas, Iron Man 3 debuted in numerous markets on Wednesday, including Australia, Italy and France. On Thursday, it opens in another raft of territories and by Sunday, it will be playing in 80 percent of the world, minus North America, China and Russia.
Disney announced earlier on Wednesday that the superhero pic will be released in China May 3.