Iron Man‘s big opening is getting the usual treatment from the press, which largely accepts the studio PR line to give the film two hyperbolic “records”: Take a deep breath and pick either “the second highest non-sequel opening of all time” or “tenth highest opening weekend of all time.”
As I have written in the past, this is true only if you are doing your calculations in the â€œInflated Play Moneyâ„¢â€ beloved by studio publicists, those who have a need to suck up to them, and the dumb. Here’s the AP version, as posted on the NYT web site:
”Iron Man” was the 10th biggest opening of all time and the fourth biggest for a superhero movie. Among nonsequels, it came in behind only the first ”Spider-Man,” which premiered with $114.8 million.
If you take the rise of ticket prices into account, Iron Man probably comes in 15th overall, not tenth. And Spider-Man earned the equivalent of about $135M today. In both cases the distinction is slightly less than billed.
The sobering details later in the story, in between the talk about the movie biz getting the “shot in the arm” it needs, is that ticket sales are still off six percent from last year; indeed, Spidey 3 opened a year ago (with $150M), so even the biggest opening of 2008 thus far represents a thirteen percent drop from the same weekend in 2007.
Even Variety’s version of events was slightly off:
Paramount and Marvel Studiosâ€™ summer tentpole â€œIron Manâ€ mined enough in its box office debut to join the pantheon of all-time highest openers, grossing an estimated $104.2 million domestically and $96.8 million internationally for a worldwide cume of $201 million in its first five days.
Hollywood couldnâ€™t wish for a better way to start summer 2008 than with the launch of a new film franchise, considering the lack of titan sequels that gave the film biz its best summer on record last year at the domestic B.O. –a blessing and a curse, since comparisons will be tough.
Emphases added. In the first graf, I don’t know if there’s an official pantheonic cutoff number, but if there is I bet it’s smaller than 15. In the second, you have to read carefully first to figure out that the writer is trying to say that there won’t be as many sequels to drum up box office this year as last. (This is true, technically, since virtually every movie released last summer was a sequel of some sort, where this summer only about every other week will see a big-budget film based either on a previous movie or TV show.)
But the stark truth is that the “record” everyone was talking about last summer, was, in non-â€œInflated Play Moneyâ„¢â€ terms, not a record at all. With the rise in ticket prices taken into account, the box office was a wash from the year before, and overall attendance was down nearly 10 percent from 2002.