Last week, director Justin Lin and Universal Pictures were in full-on celebration mode in the wake of the record-breaking $86.2 million opening weekend of "Fast Five." Summer-movie season, it seemed, had begun a week before its official start date.
Meanwhile Paramount and "Thor" — which staked a claim to debut on May 6, 2011, the traditional start of summer movie season, back in January of last year — had to wait patiently for a moment in the Hollywood spotlight. When the superhero flick's time finally came, it got off to a solid $66 million opening — an impressive beginning that becomes less so when you start breaking down the particulars.
"I wouldn't call it a failure, but it's certainly not a huge success," said Phil Contrino, editor of BoxOffice.com. "If it can hold up well in the weeks to come, then the debut won't mean as much."
At issue is the way 3-D and IMAX screenings goosed box-office grosses. Overall attendance for "Thor" was below the likes of 2003's "Hulk" and 2005's "Fantastic Four," according to Box Office Mojo. And as Gitesh Pandya of Box Office Guru points out, "The CinemaScore was a B+, meaning that critics loved the film, and regular moviegoers just liked it." Combine these factors with the fact that "Fast Five" ate up $32.5 million over its second weekend (down 62 percent), and you've got the recipe for a muscular but hardly astounding opening.
"Until Universal moved 'Fast Five' from June to April, 'Thor' was the only blockbuster on the block, as is usually the case when Hollywood's summer season begins," said Jeff Bock, box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations. "These prime release dates are locked down years in advance, so 'Thor' never knew what hit him. 'Fast Five' no doubt stole 'Thor''s thunder."
But whereas the "Fast and Furious" franchise has firmly cemented itself as an enduring action franchise, Marvel was introducing, in "Thor," a character who "was never in the premier pantheon of superheroes," as Bock put it. Though "Thor" didn't explode at the box office, and while "Captain America" might not either later this summer, it's all building up to "The Avengers" next year. Marvel's superhero all-star flick has been in the works for years, and will bring together not only Thor and the Captain, but Iron Man, Hulk and others.
"Despite 'Thor' and 'Captain America' not being mega-blockbusters like 'Iron Man,' as a combined super force, they will likely become one of Hollywood's golden franchises," Bock said. "And audiences will never have to go another summer without their Marvel fix."
Check out everything we've got on "Thor."