You can't keep a good X-Man down.
Hugh Jackman's prequel "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" leaped to the top of the box office with an US$87 million opening weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday.
That put the movie right in the pack with the three previous "X-Men" movies in which Jackman played mutant superhero Wolverine.
The trilogy's final chapter, "X-Men: The Last Stand," had the franchise's best opening with US$102.8 million. But "Wolverine" came in ahead of the first two movies; "X-Men" did US$54.5 million in its first weekend and "X2: X-Men United" took in US$85.6 million.
"It's all systems go," said Chris Aronson, distribution executive for 20th Century Fox, which releases the "X-Men" movies. "Audiences have a huge appetite for Hugh and this character."
"Wolverine" also pulled in US$73 million in 101 overseas markets, giving it a worldwide total of US$160 million. The movie's debut in Mexico was delayed for two weeks because of the swine flu outbreak there.
The Warner Bros. romantic comedy "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past," starring Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Garner, debuted in second place with US$15.3 million.
The previous weekend's top movie, Sony Screen Gems' "Obsessed," fell to No. 3 with US$12.2 million. The thriller starring Beyonce Knowles raised its 10-day total to US$47 million.
Overall revenues were virtually even with the same weekend a year ago, when "Iron Man" surprised Hollywood with a bigger-than-expected US$98.6 million debut. Hollywood.com box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian estimated this weekend's total receipts at US$160 million, up 0.8 percent from the "Iron Man" weekend a year ago.
Even if that estimate drops slightly once studios release final numbers yesterday, the weekend maintained the industry's record box-office pace as consumers cut back on travel and other activities and turn to relatively inexpensive nights out at the movies.
"Nobody thought this weekend would beat or even come close to last year's comparable weekend," Dergarabedian said. "It's a testament to the kind of year we're having and this recessionary moviegoing fueling big box office."
According to Hollywood.com, 2009 revenues are at US$3.25 billion, up 16.4 percent from last year's. Accounting for higher ticket prices, movie attendance is running 13.7 percent ahead of 2008's pace.
In limited release, Jim Jarmusch's moody crime drama "The Limits of Control" opened solidly with US$54,233 in three theaters, averaging US$18,078 a cinema, compared with US$21,225 in 4,099 locations for "Wolverine." The Focus Features film about a mystery man on a murky assignment features Isaach De Bankole, Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton.
It was not all good news for the weekend's new movies. Roadside Attractions' animated sci-fi adventure "Battle for Terra" flopped with US$1.1 million, averaging just US$916 in 1,162 theaters.
"Wolverine" does not have much breathing room at the box office. This Friday brings Paramount's relaunch of "Star Trek," with a new cast playing James Kirk, Spock and other characters from the 1960s TV series.
The rest of May is loaded with big films: Sony's "The Da Vinci Code" follow-up "Angels & Demons," with Tom Hanks; Warner's "Terminator: Salvation," starring Christian Bale; 20th Century Fox's sequel "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian," with Ben Stiller; and "Up," the latest from Disney and Pixar Animation, makers of "WALL-E," "Ratatouille" and the "Toy Story" movies.
Aronson said there should be room for all, recalling box-office analysts' reservations when "Spider-Man 3," "Shrek the Third" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" opened within a few weeks of one another in May 2007.
"Everyone freaked out. How are these movies going to coexist? They all ended up grossing over US$300 million, and I think everybody went home pretty happy," Aronson said. "When there are quality films to be seen, the marketplace will expand to accommodate everybody."
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Media By Numbers LLC. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," US$87 million.
2. "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past," US$15.3 million.
3. "Obsessed," US$12.2 million.
4. "17 Again," US$6.4 million.
5. "Monsters vs. Aliens," US$5.8 million.
6. "The Soloist," US$5.6 million.
8. "Earth," US$4.18 million.
7. "Fighting," US$4.17 million.
9. "Hannah Montana: The Movie," US$4.1 million.
10. "State of Play," US$3.7 million.
You can't keep a good X-Man down.