‘Captain America’ is a box-office trouper

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LOS ANGELES — “Captain America: The First Avenger”
outmuscled its competition at the box office this weekend, including
Harry Potter, and had the most forceful opening of any big-budget
superhero movie released this summer.

The 3-D film, which stars Chris Evans as a puny
military reject who is transformed into a superhero via a secret
government program, grossed a solid $65.8 million in the U.S. and
Canada, according to an estimate from distributor Paramount Pictures.
That was over $10 million more than both “X-Men: First Class” and “Green
Lantern” collected upon their debuts in June, and just a tad above the
$65.7 million opening weekend for “Thor” in May.

“Captain America” was also able to take down Warner
Bros.’ mighty box office wizard. After grossing close to half a billion
dollars in its worldwide opening last weekend — more than any film in
history — “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2″ saw its ticket
sales tumble substantially. During its second week in release, the
eighth and final “Potter” movie made $48.1 million domestically, meaning
receipts fell a sizable 72 percet. But the franchise finale is still
making rapid strides toward the rare club of films that have taken in $1
billion at the global box office: It has already racked up $274.2
million in the U.S. and Canada and $560.4 million abroad.

The weekend’s other new release, the R-rated comedy
“Friends With Benefits,” had a respectable $18.5 million opening for
Sony’s Screen Gems label. The film, made for about $35 million, stars
Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis as two friends who want to have a
sexual but nonromantic relationship.

“Captain America,” of course, cost far more to
produce. It was made by Marvel Entertainment, which is owned by Walt
Disney Pictures, for around $140 million, but is being distributed by
Paramount. That means Disney will receive the majority of the profits or
incur any losses from the movie.

Marvel found success with “Thor,” which was also
based on one of the company’s popular comic book heroes; the movie has
grossed $445.8 million worldwide since its opening. In many regards,
“Captain America” played a lot like “Thor,” attracting more men than
women, but there was one key difference: Audiences were more willing to
pay higher ticket prices to see “Thor” in 3-D than they were for
“Captain America.”

About 40 percent of the first-weekend sales for
“Captain America” came from 3-D ticket receipts, compared to 60 percent
for “Thor.” “Captain America” was not released in Imax theaters, which
accounted for 10 percent of the 3-D sales for “Thor.”

However, those behind “Captain America” are hoping it
may have even better word of mouth than “Thor” because audiences who
saw the film this weekend gave it an average grade of A-minus, according
to market research firm CinemaScore. “Thor” got a B-plus CinemaScore
and saw ticket sales drop only 47 percent in its second weekend in
theaters.

But for “Captain America” to be profitable, it must
do strong business overseas — a prospect that some in the industry have
said may be a challenge for a film with such patriotic U.S. themes. The
movie opened in only one foreign territory this weekend, Italy, where it
took in $2.8 million — a sign that international audiences will embrace
“Captain America,” Paramount Vice Chairman Rob Moore believes.

“It’s not the equivalent of opening in the (United
Kingdom) or Australia — it’s a good barometer of how other markets in
Europe will play, and I think this is the first indication that we’ll do
very strong business overseas,” he said.

As for “Friends With Benefits,” it appealed largely
to women, as 62 percent of the crowd was female. Those who saw the film
liked it, giving it an average grade of B-plus.

While the movie is off to a good start at the box
office, it had a slightly lower opening than “No Strings Attached,” a
movie released in January with an extremely similar premise. That film,
in which Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher starred as two buddies who
sleep together and attempt to maintain their friendship, opened to $19.7
million. The film was also produced for a modest cost and went on to
become a sleeper hit, grossing $147.8 million worldwide by the end of
its run in theaters.

” ‘No Strings Attached’ opened with just no
competition. They really had that date all to themselves,” Sony
distribution President Rory Bruer said, referring to the fact that the
Kutcher-Portman movie was the only new film in release on the weekend it
opened. “So for us to be in such a competitive environment and open
pretty close to their number says a lot about the film in regards to its
mettle.”

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” has officially
become Paramount’s highest-grossing film ever overseas, this weekend
passing the half-billion-dollar mark abroad. Overseas, the film
collected $62 million from 60 foreign markets, bringing its
international total to $556.6 million. The movie debuted this weekend in
China, where it had the biggest opening ever for an American film with
$40 million.

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(c) 2011, Los Angeles Times.

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