Michael Bay's bad-boy bodybuilder tale "Pain & Gain" captured the domestic box office this weekend, but "Iron Man 3" stole the show with a staggering $195 million international debut that sets the stage for a monster U.S. opening next weekend.
"Iron Man 3" delivered a bigger first overseas weekend than "The Avengers," another Disney-Marvel superhero saga. That film, which also featured Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark character, debuted to $185 million internationally last summer.
"Iron Man 3" was No. 1 in all 27 foreign markets in which it rolled out. The United Kingdom was tops with $21 million, followed by Korea ($19 million), Australia ($18 million) and Mexico ($16 million). It took in $7.2 million on 113 Imax theaters, for a whopping $64,000 per-screen average, again better than "The Avengers."
Disney's head of distribution Dave Hollis tipped his hat to Marvel President Kevin Feige, an executive producer on the movie, for his role in setting up and shepherding "Iron Man 3" to a powerful international debut.
"You have to give Kevin a lot of credit for this," Disney's head of distribution Dave Hollis told TheWrap Sunday. "'The Avengers' transcended superhero fare and laid the groundwork for something like this to happen, and clearly audiences were ready."
The momentum from abroad should only help "Iron Man 3" when it opens in the U.S. on Friday.
"We're encouraged," Hollis said, "but not taking anything for granted. The jumps from Friday to Saturday were significant in nearly every territory, so we're hoping that word of mouth translates to the U.S."
"Iron Man 2" debuted to $128 million in the U.S. in 2010. Bullish analysts forecast a $160 million U.S. opening for "Iron Man 3." That would put it behind "The Avengers," featuring with Downey's Tony Stark character, which shattered domestic box office records with a $207 million first weekend to jump-start last summer.
However, this "Iron Man" installment is expected to be the biggest in the franchise. The first two "Iron Man" films brought in a combined $1.2 billion at the worldwide box office and this one is expected to be the biggest yet. The original "Iron Man" made $585 million, $318 of that domestically and $268 million overseas.
The sequel brought in $623 million globally, $312 million from North America, $311 million from abroad. It's highly unlikely domestic grosses will outstrip foreign this time around, given the exponential growth in the number of overseas screens, especially Imax and 3D, which bring premium pricing.
Disney is clearly focused on maximizing foreign returns, particularly in China, which has emerged as a major market since the last "Iron Man" movie. Marvel Studios collaborated with Beijing-based DMG Entertainment in the making of "Iron Man 3," and Disney will release a special version tailored to Chinese audiences when it opens there Wednesday.
In addition to Downey, the film stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce and Rebecca Hall. Veteran Shane Black ("Lethal Weapon") directs from a screenplay he co-wrote with Drew Pearce. Jon Favreau, who directed the first two films, is an executive producer, and appears in the movie.
"Pain & Gain" muscled its way to the top spot in the U.S. with a three-day haul estimated at $20 million. Paramount's darkly comic action film held off last week's No. 1 film, "Oblivion," Universal's Tom Cruise sci-fi epic, which took in $17.4 million in its second week and is about to cross $200 million in worldwide grosses.
The domestic box office was running about 20 percent down from last year, as moviegoers seems to be waiting for "Iron Man 3" and the summer movie season. Besides "Iron Man 3," "The Great Gatsby" (May 10), "Star Trek Into Darkness" (May 17) and "Fast and Furious 6" and "The Hangover Part III" (both May 24) all roll out next month.
This week's only other wide opener, Lionsgate's star-packed farce "The Big Wedding," managed just $7.5 million, below expectations that were soft to begin with. Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Katherine Heigl, Amanda Seyfried, Robin Williams, Topher Grace and Susan Sarandon star in the R-rated comedy, directed by Justin Zackman ("The Bucket List").
The Jackie Robinson movie "42," from Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros., finished third with $10.3 million. Its domestic total after three weeks is $61 million.