Iron Man fights off Gatsby to win weekend

Robert Downey Jr. returns in 'Iron Man 3.'. Handout

LOS ANGELES – Gatsby looks almost as great as a superhero at the weekend box office.

Leonard DiCaprio’s The Great Gatsby partied like it was the Roaring ’20s with a $51.1 million debut that made it a surprisingly strong runner-up to comic-book blockbuster Iron Man 3.

Studio estimates Sunday put Gatsby at No. 2 behind Robert Downey Jr.’s superhero sequel, which pulled in $72.5 million domestically to raise its total to $284.9 million after just 10 days in U.S. and Canadian theatres.

With an additional $89.3 million in its third weekend overseas, Iron Man 3 lifted its international total to $664.1 million and its worldwide haul to $949 million.

The Great Gatsby far exceeded expectations by distributor Warner Bros. of a $35 million to $40 million opening weekend.

Director Baz Luhrmann’s 3-D adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic was a rare box-office smash for films aimed at older adults during the youth-minded summer season. According to Warner Bros., viewers over 25 made up 69 per cent of the film’s audience.

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“It answers the question that you and I hear all the time from people over 50, ‘There’s nothing for me to see,'” said Dan Fellman, the studio’s head of distribution. “While every studio has the $200 million tentpoles in the marketplace, you still have those who feel that it’s not directed at them, which is true. So that’s why I think counterprogramming like this is very important.”

The weekend’s other new wide release, the romantic comedy Peeples, flopped at No. 4 with just $4.9 million. Produced by Tyler Perry, the movie stars Craig Robinson and Kerry Washington in a meet-the-parents-style farce.

Getting a head start on its domestic launch Friday, Star Trek: Into Darkness opened with $31.7 million in seven international markets. Its overseas debut included $13.3 million in Great Britain, $7.6 million in Germany and $5.5 million in Australia.

Gatsby was by far the biggest debut ever for filmmaker Luhrmann, whose previous best was $14.8 million for Australia. In just one weekend, The Great Gatsby nearly matched the $57.4 million domestic haul that Luhrmann’s top-grossing film, the musical Moulin Rouge!, managed in its entire run.

Gatsby also gave DiCaprio his second-biggest debut, behind the $62.8 million take for Inception.

The film’s success follows a bumpy road to theatres. Originally scheduled for release last December, Warner Bros. pushed it back to summer to give Luhrmann more time to finish his elaborate visual spectacle.

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How well the film holds up in coming weeks depends on word-of-mouth from fans. Reviews for The Great Gatsby have been so-so, with many critics saying it sacrifices drama and substance for style and dazzle, including Lurhmann’s elaborate party scenes backed by a contemporary soundtrack featuring Jay-Z, Beyonce and Lana Del Rey.

Iron Man 3 was down a steep 58 per cent from its opening weekend haul, no surprise given that its $174.1 million domestic debut was the second-biggest ever. The only film to do more business was Downey and company’s ensemble adventure The Avengers, which topped $200 million in its premiere last year.

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