It's not easy to upstage a $175.3 million, second-best-ever debut at the U.S. box office, but that's what "Iron Man 3" did this weekend.
Disney and Marvel's superhero sequel actually topped that figure, behind only the $207 million debut of "The Avengers" last year, by taking in $175.9 million from overseas this weekend – in its second week. That's after bringing in a staggering $195 million in its debut abroad the previous week. In 11 days of release, "Iron Man" has taken in $680 million worldwide, with more than $500 million of that coming from overseas.
"It's extraordinary," Disney's head of distribution Dave Hollis told TheWrap. "It's a Marvel superhero movie of course, but the action and comedy elements are clearly translating and have plainly turned this into an event overseas."
The first two "Iron Man" movies took in $1.2 billion worldwide, but as much of those grosses came from the U.S. as abroad, and that won't be the case with "Iron Man 3." It is playing like a sequel to "The Avengers," which also featured Robert Downey Jr. and his Iron Man character.
This time around, foreign grosses could double the domestic haul. In China, where the film broke opening-day records last week, "Iron Man 3" has already brought in $63.5 million. Korea is next with $42 million, followed by the U.K. with $38 million.
"Some of it is the market," Hollis said, referring to the explosive growth in the number of theaters and emergence of several major markets, especially China and Russia, "but a lot of it the concept, plan and execution by Marvel President Kevin Feige and his team. "And we're talking years here."
BoxOffice.com Editor-in-Chief Phil Contrino agreed.
"They built up to 'The Avengers' and now they're building on 'The Avengers'," he told TheWrap. "It's unprecedented and it's impressive."
The original "Iron Man" got the ball rolling, with $585 million in global grosses back in 2008. Then came "The Incredible Hulk" ($263 million), "Iron Man 2" ($624 million), "Thor" ($449 million) and "Captain America: The First Avengers" ($368 million). They all set up "The Avengers" to make $1.5 billion and become the third-highest grossing movie of all time, behind "Avatar" and "Titanic." The Marvel superhero mash-up brought in $888 million internationally, compared to $623 million domestically.
Much of the growth of the international market has been built on 3D and Imax screens, and the benefit of that was clear for "Iron Man 3," which played in sold-out theaters around the globe.
It brought in approximately $13 million from 267 IMAX screens, an eye-popping per-screen average of almost $50,000. In Russia, it was $72,000 per screen, in China, it was $63,000.
"Basically, we ran out of screens," Imax President Greg Foster told TheWrap. "That this film is playing so strongly in its second week really speaks to how strong the word of mouth is."
The huge China numbers are no accident. Disney has had its eye on the Chinese market since it began filming "Iron Man 3" last year.
The movie was partly financed by the Chinese studio DMG, which will co-distribute in China. A version of movie edited specifically for the Chinese market includes a number of scenes filmed on location in the People's Republic and several added scenes in Mandarin, as well as an appearance by one of that country's most popular actresses, Fan Bingbing.