"Iron Man" poised to blast box office into summer

Thu May 1, 2008 3:15pm EDT
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood studios are counting on actor Robert Downey Jr. and his big-screen incarnation as "Iron Man" to blast them out of a box office slump as the lucrative summer movie season opens this weekend.

The latest Marvel comics adventure is expected to gross $60 million to $80 million or more during its initial Friday-through-Sunday run in North American theaters, experts said, buoyed by heavy promotion and largely favorable reviews.

That would fall far short of the $151 million all-time record opening that "Spider-Man 3" notched during the same weekend last year, thanks to the frenzy surrounding a highly anticipated sequel to an established blockbuster franchise.

The first "Spider-Man" film still holds the record for biggest domestic opening by a non-sequel movie -- $114.8 million in the first weekend of May 2002.

"Iron Man" will probably rank more on par with yet another Marvel superhero drama, "X2: X-Men United," which opened the first weekend of May 2003 with about $85 million in receipts.

While unlikely to quite match Spidey's box-office clout, "Iron Man" is no lightweight.

It cost a reported $150 million to make, sports plenty of nifty special effects, and stars Downey as a wealthy weapons executive and playboy wrestling with a mid-life crisis as he invents a powerful high-tech suit of armor to fight bad guys.

The film marks a key turning point in Downey's once-clouded career -- his first lead role in a high-profile, big-studio picture since his 1997 incarceration for violating probation on drunken driving and drug possession charges.   Continued...

<p>Cast member Robert Downey Jr. and his wife Susan Downey attend the premiere of "Iron Man" at the Grauman Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California April 30, 2008. The movie opens in the U.S. on May 2. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>