"Superman Returns" brought a film franchise back to life for Warner Bros. with an opening weekend gross of $52.2 million in the U.S. and Canada, the studio estimated.
Director Bryan Singer's costly retelling of the comic book classic -- the first big-screen version of the Man of the Steel in 19 years -- generated $84.2 million in the five days starting with its Wednesday launch.
That put it on pace to pull in $110 million during its first full week, ending with Tuesday's holiday.
Though solid, the numbers fell short of targets set by some Wall Street analysts. The studio was encouraged, however, for several reasons.
After a recent disastrous domestic run for its "Poseidon" remake, Warner Bros. needed a hit. And after investing more than $200 million to produce "Superman Returns," the studio appears to have reestablished the character's franchise for a new generation.
What's more, the early ad campaign struck many analysts as too "soft" for the superhero genre and fanned rumors that Superman might be gay. Until recently the movie had not been tracking well in prerelease surveys.
"Two weeks ago, this picture was in big trouble," said Steve Mason, a columnist for the Box Office Prophets website and a Los Angeles-area theater owner and talk radio host.
"The early marketing was mishandled, and it took a while to get any traction in the marketplace. Now it looks like the film will get to $250 million domestically, and they've got to be overjoyed at Warner Bros."
Playing at 4,065 theaters, "Superman Returns" averaged $12,829 per venue over the weekend.
The other new film in wide release, the comedy-drama "The Devil Wears Prada," paid off as a counter-programming move by 20th Century Fox. It premiered at No. 2, behind "Superman Returns."
The adaptation of Lauren Weisberger's bestselling novel, starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway, generated a robust $27 million. Its audience was 79% female.
"This was way beyond anybody's expectations," said Bruce Snyder, president of domestic distribution at Fox.
The film, which cost about $35 million to make, averaged $9,484 at 2,847 theaters.
Despite the steep cost, "Superman Returns" will be "extremely profitable," said Dan Fellman, Warner Bros.' president of domestic distribution.
"Anytime you can do $100 million in the first week, that's quite an elite club," Fellman said.
The film smashed records at Imax theaters. In five days at 76 of the giant-screen venues, it grossed $5 million. At most Imax locations, 18 minutes of the film is being shown in 3-D, a novelty that could help drive repeat business.
The audience for "Superman Returns" was estimated at 57% male, Fellman said. The studio expects to increase its female audience, however, now that "Prada" has opened.
Fellman noted that "Superman Returns" outperformed "Batman Begins" -- the film that, in similar fashion, reinvigorated the Batman franchise last year for Warner Bros.
"Batman Begins" grossed $72.8 million in its first five days, en route to a $205-million total in the U.S. and Canada. The studio has another Batman movie from director Christopher Nolan in the works for summer 2008.
"Superman Returns" is the fifth Superman film but the first since 1987. Although no more Superman films have been announced, analysts consider it a virtual certainty that at least one more chapter will be produced.
The original "Superman: The Movie" of 1978 and sequel "Superman II" were big hits, but the franchise then petered out. The most recent installment, "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace," grossed only $16 million.
"Superman Returns" got off to a brisk start internationally, grossing $19.8 million in 11 markets in Asia and the Pacific Rim. A wider global rollout in Europe and Latin America will follow the World Cup soccer tournament this month.
Gitesh Pandya, editor of Box Office Guru online in New York, said that although "Superman Returns" received favorable reviews, it suffered from fierce competition.
"The Devil Wears Prada" and two holdover movies, the Adam Sandler comedy "Click" and the animated "Cars," grossed more than $60 million combined.
The competition gets no easier next weekend with the release of the summer's most anticipated film, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest."
Analysts predict that Walt Disney Co.'s sequel to "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" could become the sixth film ever to open with more than $100 million.
The adventure film is expected to draw well among all demographic categories, with stars Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom seen as magnets for female moviegoers.
Halfway through the summer season, box-office receipts overall bested last year's tally for the seventh straight weekend. Year to date, revenue has risen 4.8% to $4.6 billion, partly because of ticket price inflation.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Preliminary results (in millions) in the U.S. and Canada, based on studio projections
*--* Movie 3-day gross Total Superman Returns $52.2 $84.2
Devil Wears Prada 27.0 27.0
Click 19.4 77.9
Cars 14.0 182.1
Nacho Libre 6.2 65.0
The Lake House 4.5 38.7
Fast Furious: Tokyo Drift 4.4 51.7
Waist Deep 3.3 15.2
The Break-Up 2.8 110.1
The Da Vinci Code 2.3 209.8
*--* 3-day gross Change (in millions) from 2005 $149.0 +5.5%
Year-to-date gross Change (in billions) from 2005 $4.6 +4.8%
Source: Exhibitor Relations Co.