Rival Hollywood studios are telling me that Superman Returns isn’t soaring and likely won’t gross $200 million domestically, and that would be a huge blow to Warner Bros. In fact, people around Hollywood are starting to drop the dreaded “D” word, for disappointing, at least in comparison to other big tentpole pics. Sunday’s box office was slightly better than previously estimated, but the Man of Steel took in only a limp $53+ million for the weekend from 4,065 theaters. The studio itself is claiming victory simply because Superman Return‘s gross for the 5-day holiday was $85+ million, which bettered the $72.9 mil of its recent release Batman Begins (and that wasn’t stellar, either). But Superman Returns ranks only 25th of all time among 5-day openings, and that’s lame. It’s panic time back in Burbank since, next weekend, Superman is an after-thought once Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean 2 — still tracking as the biggest movie opening ever — steals its audience. In fact, Warner’s flopsweat was so bad that the week saw some serious number-fudging for obvious PR reasons. Warner’s was claiming a $21 mil opening take Wednesday, but rivals put it at most $19 mil. Turns out Superman Returns‘ studio was including Tuesday’s sneak 10 p.m. screenings, and that ain’t kosher. Now BoxOfficeMojo.com agrees with me now, unlike earlier, showing an est. $3.0 mil take on Tuesday and only a gross of $18.0 for Wednesday’s official debut. Rival studios show $10.7 mil for Superman Returns on Thursday, $16.3 mil on Friday, and $18.4 mil on Saturday and better than $18+ on Sunday.

“It’s not unfair to note that Fox’s X-Men 3 had $130 mil after five days and is ending up making $235 mil or so. If the same ratio holds and Superman Returns does 1/3 less, than it would not make $200 mil and that would be a disappointment,” a rival studio bigwig told me. Especially compared to Sony’s Spiderman 2 which opened on a similar date (6/30/04) and earned a whopping $192 mil during its five seven days out. The “D” word is being tossed around because the cost of this pic meant it had to do superrific. I’ve been reporting for weeks now, and Box Office Mojo is now confirming, that Superman Returns‘ budget soared past $250 million. (Yes, I know what the Wall Street Journal reported — $209 mil — but that simply doesn’t fly.) In terms of audience quadrants, Cinemascore gave Superman Returns only a B+ (A- for under-25, but only a B for over-25. So the studio is not getting the wide audience needed for the pic to make $200 mil.) There’s also a lot of anecdotal evidence around about the lack of lines in front of its movie theaters, while inside audiences were looking at their watches during the 2-hour/40 minute running time. Meanwhile those reports about the Man of Steel not even being American anymore proved bad PR: it’s now “truth, justice, and all that stuff” instead of “truth, justice, and the American way.” No doubt to make him more palatable to overseas audiences.

By contrast, Fox’s The Devil Wears Prada opening in 2,847 theaters made an angelic debut, grossing $9.3 million on Friday, $9.2 mil Saturday and $8.4 mil (est.) Sunday for a $27.0 million cume. That’s very good for a chick flick. After all, Warner’s female niche movie, The Lake House, opened last month on life support. Sony’s Adam Sandler comedy Click came in 3rd (it’s already outpacing Sandler/Sony’s previous Mr. Deeds and Anger Management), Disney/Pixar’s Cars 4th (and it’ll pass $200 mil in domestic gross later in the week), and Paramount’s Jack Black’s Nacho Libre 5th. More as it comes in…

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