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HuffPost Weekend Box Office Rundown: Wolverine Proves Mighter Than Piracy, Swine Flu, and Mediocrity!

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Overpowering a month-early leak of the work print, theoretical fears of swine flu, and some of the worst buzz of any summer film not named G.I. Joe or Year One, X-Men Origins: Wolverine powered its way to a terrific $85.05 million opening weekend. The film opened to $35 million on Friday, which included $5 million in midnight screenings. So, if you count the midnight screenings as part of the Friday total (as we always do here, since the studio made the choice to hold said midnight engagements), that gives the picture a decent 2.4x opening day-to-weekend multiplier. For comparison, last year's big summer kick-off picture, Iron Man, opened to $102 million with midnight screenings, giving the picture a 2.6x.

So, amazingly enough, not only did the film score a boffo opening day, it actually didn't completely collapse over the weekend. To be fair, I am biased, believing the film to be stunningly not entertaining, but this would-be fourth X-Men picture actually had a comparable multiplier with the previous X-Men pictures. For comparison, X-Men: The Last Stand had a three-day multiplier of 2.3x (to be fair, it opened on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, so it had an extra holiday Monday to take in movie goers). X2: X-Men United opened at 31/85, giving it a 2.74x. And the original X-Men ($20 million opening day/$54 million opening weekend), had a 2.62x.

So, the good news is that Hugh Jackman and company weathered an unimaginable storm of bad luck to score a weekend knockout anyway. It is the 8th biggest opening weekend for a comic book adaptation. It is the nineteenth biggest opening weekend of all time, becoming the astounding 21st film to open to over $80 million (all since November, 2001). Remember that pointless figure for 'third biggest opening weekend for a fourth in a series'? Yeah, Wolverine just blew past Fast & Furious to claim that pointless touchstone. Oh, and Wolverine now has the biggest opening weekend of 2009.

Is there bad news? Perhaps. In a marketplace that seems more and more front-loaded, we have now seen almost a year since a film crossed the $200 million mark (that would be The Dark Knight back in July, 2008). In that time, we have seen six $50 million+ openings that have failed to even reach $200 million. Twilight, Quantum of Solace, Madagascar 2, Watchmen, Monsters Vs. Aliens, Fast & Furious... four of those titles opened well north of $60 million. The closest was Twilight, which opened to $69 million and ended up at $191 million. Monsters and Aliens is now at $185 million and has two weeks to get there before Night at the Museum 2 effectively kills it (and 'MvA' will lose many of its IMAX screens to Star Trek this weekend). Point being, $200 million is not guaranteed, especially with this particularly short-term franchise.

Quite frankly, X-Men pictures has the worst legs of any major franchise. The first film, despite getting solid reviews and decent word of mouth from fans and casual moviegoers, still barely made 2.88x its opening weekend. It opened with $54 million and ended with $157 million. And, despite rave reviews, rapturous response from moviegoers, and being considered one of the best comic book movies ever made, X2 opened with $85 million and closed with just $215 million, a downright pathetic 2.5x weekend to total multiplier. As for the 'Last Stand'? That critical and word of mouth turkey opened with a spectacular $122 million in four days (Memorial Day weekend, natch). It closed with just $235 million. If we take the four day number, it gives X-Men: The Last Stand a shockingly poor 1.9x w2t multiplier. But lets play fair and take the three day Fri-Sun portion. Factoring in just the $105 million three-day number still gives the third X-Men picture a poor 2.2x.

So, if we play best case scenario and give Wolverine 'legs' on par with the first X-Men picture, that gives it a super-solid $245 million. Not gonna happen, but let's pretend. Anyway, an identical performance to X2 gives it $215 million, same as X2. If Wolverine gets hit by word of mouth, stiff competition from the allegedly fantastic Star Trek, genre competion from Terminator: Salvation, and, yes, that bootleg, it could see a quick and brutal collapse (do you think anyone who has the bootleg but still saw it in theaters this weekend is going to spend the time and money for a repeat viewing at a threater?). I'm not saying it's going to be Watchmen-terrible (that one opened to $55 million and closed with $108 million... a terrifying 1.96x weekend-to-total multiplier), but a similar to X-Men: The Last Stand 2.2x performance would bring about a domestic total of $187 million. Nothing to sneeze at, but its not a total that gets X-Men Origins: Magneto or X-Men Origins: Gambit greenlit.

As always, next Friday's numbers will tell the tale. Once again, the culprit is budget versus plausible expectations. Had Fox kept the budget close to the announced $90 million, this would have been a grand slam home run no matter how well it held up. But alleged reshoots and other behind the scenes turmoil ballooned this thing well past the budgets for X-Men and X2. I've said this quite a bit, but at some point studios have to stop budgeting every major franchise picture at such a high cost that they MUST break records to even make their money back.

For other box office news, including the other two openers and what Wolverine's opening means for Star Trek, go to Mendelson's Memos.

Scott Mendelson