The Man of Steel conquered the North American box office this weekend as the super hero adventure Superman Returns claimed the number one spot over the pre-Independence Day holiday frame.

Second place was taken by Meryl Streep whose new comedy The Devil Wears Prada opened with more muscle than expected. Most holdovers suffered substantial declines, however the overall marketplace remained slightly better than last year’s. But for the first time in five years, Hollywood will reach the Fourth of July without a summer film passing the $250M mark.

Flying to the top of the charts, Superman Returns collected an estimated $52.2M over the Friday-to-Sunday period and $84.2M since its launch on Wednesday. The PG-13 film was the first new installment for the beloved comic book characeter in nearly two decades and averaged a strong $12,829 over three days from a massive 4,065 theaters. The total gross included about $3M from Tuesday night previews which began at 10:00pm and $5M from 76 Imax theaters where the film was presented with special 3D footage. The studio expects to reach a seven-day tally of $110M by the end of Tuesday.

Reviews were mostly positive for the Bryan Singer-directed film which saw newcomer Brandon Routh stepping into the title role following the late Christopher Reeve. Kevin Spacey plays arch-nemesis Lex Luthor while Kate Bosworth takes the role of Lois Lane. The pricey film carried a colossal production budget in the neighborhood of $250M which included about $40M in early development costs before the current cast and crew were in place.

Though a strong number one bow, the opening of Superman Returns did not match up to the debuts of similar action and sci-fi films. One year ago, the Tom Cruise alien invasion film War of the Worlds opened over the same holiday weekend with the same Wednesday start but grossed a higher $100.6M over its first five days. Four years ago, Men in Black II also premiered the same way and grossed $87.2M over its Wednesday-to-Sunday launch which at today’s ticket prices would be close to a nine-digit gross. The Kryptonian hero’s five-day opening even fell short of the three-day bow of Singer’s last film X2: X-Men United which opened to $85.6M three years ago.

However, Superman Returns did manage to open better than last summer’s Batman Begins which was another Warner Bros. film attempting to restart a dormant super hero franchise. That film captured $72.9M in its five-day debut including $48.7M over the Friday-to-Sunday period. The new Clark Kent pic is off to a 16% better start than the new Bruce Wayne flick over five days, and only 7% better over the weekend portion. The studio hopes to have long legs again like it did with Batman which went on to gross $205.3M domestically.

But that will be a tough task for Superman which has a very different road ahead of it. Batman Begins had little direct competition in its second weekend plus had the Fourth of July holiday help its third frame. Superman, on the other hand, is already taking advantage of its only holiday which is boosting its opening week. Plus it has a juggernaut in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest opening on its second weekend which is aiming to steal away the same audience.

Competition was also a major factor for Superman Returns this weekend especially with The Devil Wears Prada stealing away a larger-than-expected female audience. The super hero film’s next three competitors collected a hefty $60.4M in ticket sales over the weekend. By comparison, War of the Worlds faced $35.3M in combined sales from the next three biggest films.

Internationally, the new Superman film took flight in the Asia/Pacific region and opened at number one in eleven countries grossing an estimated $19.8M from 1,750 theaters. Key markets included Korea, Australia, the Philippines, and India. The studio is holding back the film in Europe and Latin America until after the World Cup final which takes place on July 9.

Fox countered the super hero adventure with the femme-driven comedy The Devil Wears Prada and scored a terrific second place debut with an estimated $27M. Playing in 2,847 locations, the PG-13 film averaged a stunning $9,484 per theater and ranked as Meryl Streep’s best opening ever in a lead role. Devil was based on the best-selling novel about a small-town gal who lands a job as the assistant to the evil editor-in-chief of the fashion industry’s top magazine. Anne Hathaway co-stars. The Prada audience was immensely female as studio research showed that a whopping 79% were women. Those over the age of 25 made up 61% of the crowd.

With both The Lake House and The Break-Up aging, Devil found an opportunity to score with adult women with extra leisure time over of the long holiday weekend – especially those who had little interest in seeing Superman. The counter-programming move worked like a charm for Fox which spent over $40M on Prada which managed to tap into a built-in audience of fans of the book. Starpower from Streep and Hathaway also allowed for a broad age range to take interest. Reviews were mostly good.

Dropping from first to third was Adam Sandler‘s comedy Click which grossed an estimated $19.4M in its sophomore frame. Falling 52%, the Sony release has laughed up a solid $77.9M in ten days. Compared to the ten-day cumes of the studio’s previous Sandler comedies opening on the weekend before the Fourth of July frame, Click has done slightly better than the $73.6M of 2002’s Mr. Deeds but has not reached the $83.7M of 1999’s Big Daddy. Those films ended their runs with $126.3M and $163.5M, respectively. The $83M Click looks to find its way to about $130M.

Cars enjoyed the smallest decline in the top ten slipping 40% to an estimated $14M for fourth place. The Disney/Pixar hit upped its cume to $182.1M. Paramount’s Nacho Libre fell 51% to an estimated $6.2M giving the Jack Black comedy $65M to date.

Folowing in sixth place was the Keanu ReevesSandra Bullock romance The Lake House with an estimated $4.5M, off 49%, leaving Warner Bros. with $38.7M thus far. Close behind with an estimated $4.4M was the street racing sequel The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift which dropped 55% in its third lap. Total to date stands at $51.7M.

The Tyrese Gibson actioner Waist Deep suffered the worst decline in the top ten tumbling 65% to an estimated $3.3M in its second weekend. The Focus release has grossed $15.2M in ten days and should finish up with around $22M. Universal’s comedy The Break-Up crumbled 57% to an estimated $2.8M while Sony’s religious thriller The Da Vinci Code rounded out the top ten with an estimated $2.3M, off 43%. Cumes for each are $110.1M and $209.8M, respectively.

Although overall ticket sales continue to inch ahead of last year each weekend, the season’s top blockbusters remain weaker than those from 2005. The cumulative gross for the top five summer films this year reached $900.3M, down 8% from last summer’s five biggest hits at this same point.

Two Fox sequels fell from the top ten over the weekend. The year’s highest-grossing film X-Men: The Last Stand dropped 58% to an estimated $2.1M to boost its sum to $228.6M. The $165M film currently stands at number 48 on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters ahead of Signs which grossed $228M in 2002. The final mutant adventure is the top-grossing installment in the trilogy surpassing the $157.3M of 2000’s X-Men and the $214.9M of 2003’s X2 and should complete its domestic run with around $235M. Overseas, it has already grossed over $195M.

The studio has not had as much luck with its kidpic Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties which tumbled 62% to an estimated $2M in only its third weekend. Family audiences have rejected the cat flick spending only $21.5M on it thus far. The Garfield sequel looks to end up with only $25M or one-third of the $75.4M of its 2004 predecessor.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $136.2M which was up 5% from last year when War of the Worlds debuted at number one with $64.9M; but down 12% from 2004 when Spider-Man 2 opened in the top spot with $88.2M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya,

Although the news has been reported here and there for the past several days, Variety has just confirmed it: director Matthew Vaughn has been handed the reins to the "X-Men" franchise. Longtime producer of Guy Ritchie‘s films ("Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," "Snatch") and first-time director in his own right (his "Layer Cake" hits screens in a few months), Matthew Vaughn will step behind the camera for the second sequel in the "X-Men" series. With Bryan Singer graduating to "Superman" for WB, Fox was on the hunt for a solid young filmmaker to keep the "X-Men" adventures rolling, and apparently they liked what they saw in his colorful crime drama "Layer Cake."

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