LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The first big release of the lucrative summer moviegoing season will actually come out in the final four hours of the spring.
"Iron Man," a superhero movie starring Robert Downey Jr., will open in more than 2,000 theaters at 8 p.m. Thursday.
That may lower the comic-book action picture's weekend gross just a tad, but it is still looking likely to ring up an impressive $70 million or more Friday through Sunday.
This is the season when the studios are anxious to manage overly exuberant expectations for their big summer releases. Yet executives at Paramount Pictures, which is distributing the Marvel-produced movie, say "Iron Man" is all but guaranteed to open with more than $60 million over its first weekend.
Pre-release buzz for "Iron Man" is so strong that only one studio has scheduled a rival wide release for this weekend, when Sony will hope its Patrick Dempsey romantic comedy "Made of Honor" can attract a few women.
So Paramount and Marvel have the weekend to themselves.
"Iron Man" totes perhaps $150 million in production costs and a $75 million tab for prints and advertising (P&A). Marvel paid for the production, its first wholly financed project, while Paramount put up all of the P&A, which it will recoup along with an unspecified distribution fee.
"Iron Man" is also set for 2,000-plus midnight Thursday showtimes, but those grosses will be included in Friday tallies.
As for the Thursday night playdates diluting some of Friday's domestic tally on "Iron Man," Paramount's strategy hinges on the premise that the early showtimes will create word of mouth and stimulate bigger Saturday grosses. The studio is betting that the picture will ring up more total opening business with the Thursday screenings than it would with a simple Friday-through-Sunday debut.
That means that the picture's ranking amid top three-day box office grossers will suffer a bit in the industry record books. But that's much less important than the opening's total gross in this era of one-week-wonder tentpoles.
For though "Iron Man" has attracted positive early reviews and could prove leggy, just one week after its opening weekend Warners sends out the summer's second big event pic, "Speed Racer," over a Mothers Day frame that will also feature Fox's Cameron Diaz-Ashton Kutcher starrer "What Happens in Vegas."
"Iron-Man" is also set to open Friday in most major foreign territories except Japan, where billionaire playboy Tony Stark and his pricey iron playsuit will hit movie screens just a few weeks later.