Speed Racer’ $20M Weekend Half What Warner Bros Hoped
Rival Studios Accuse WB Of Inflating #s

SATURDAY NOON UPDATE: I’m just receiving reports that Speed Racer also isn’t doing well overseas where it opened day and date Friday in 30+ territories. Says a marketing and distribution source for another studio: “It is a disaster in the worst way. It was No. 6 in the UK and No. 9 in Germany and the numbers are horrific. Only Latin America showed signs of life — but it was barely a pulse.” I haven’t seen any official international figures from Warner Bros yet. But the film was supposed to do better overseas where anime is a bigger draw than in the U.S.

As expected, Marvel’s Iron Man is the blockbuster No. 1 for the second week in a row. According to distributor Paramount, it took in a str0ng $15 million Friday from 4,111 theaters (-62% from its opening) for what should be a $50 million weekend. Its new cume is a monster $141.4M. (I loved how star Robert Downey Jr. told Jay Leno this week that it’s much better to have a blockbuster than an Oscar.) But the big story this weekend is what a big bomb Warner Bros’ has released. It’s now official: Speed Racer is the first domestic box office disaster of the summer. It placed only No. 3 Friday, well behind Fox’s romantic comedy What Happens In Vegas, which opened with $7.1 million from 3,215 venues for what should be a $20 million weekend. (Photos of Robert Downey Jr at the Iron Man premieres in the UK and Australia…)

Despite a wide release into 3,606 theaters, the anime actioner starring Emile Hirsh opened Friday with only $6.1 million (and some studios said it was merely $5.7M). Even if today’s kiddie matinees generate some of the usual high-octane and the movie moves up a notch to second place, it still won’t move Speed Racer out of the slow lane or approach Warner Bros’ own expectations of a mid-$30s million debut (and that was down from a hoped-for $40 mil a few days before…). The alarming fact is this film will struggle to even make $20 million for the weekend. At an estimated cost of at least $160 million (talk about a writedown!), this family fare is yet another case of a studio letting talent run amok: the Wachowski siblings delivered a long, loud, and lousy movie. (The Industry scuttlebutt is that Warner Bros Pictures Group prez Jeff Robinov, a one-time agent, gave way too much power to his former clients. Of course, the success of their Matrix franchise justified a certain degree of autonomy.) The film’s biggest handicap is its 2 hour, 15 minute, running time, bucking the current trend of kid movies clocking in at a mercifully short 90 to 100 minutes. And then there are the bad reviews: only 27% positive among the cream of the crop of Rotten Tomatoes film critics. In addition, the pic should have been “aged up”: it plays too young and limits its audience by appealing mostly to little boys. According to the “Parents and Kids” premium tracking, Speed Racer was first choice among parents and boys aged 7 through 11. Unfortunately, the Warner Bros film will get creamed by the competition from the Disney/Walden blockbuster Narnia 2 opening next weekend.

As for Fox’s What Happens in Vegas and its tired “been-there, done-that” plot, stars Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz didn’t deliver much box office firepower playing newlyweds. But the first-time-paired duo haven’t been hot at the cineplex individually for a long while. Again, this is a case of movie stars, not box office stars. Some marketing mavens are hanging this on Ashton. “Guys just do not like him. He’s a pretty boy toy and not someone guys feel they connect to,” said an insider. “The upside is that the film cost only $35 million.” Fox’s well-oiled marketing machinery can make something out of nothing, and did that again here.

The rest of the Top 10 are holdovers.

FRIDAY PM: Here are very early numbers for Friday’s domestic box office gross…

Marvel’s Iron Man still the easy No. 1 blockbuster. -61% for $15M tonight. Looks platinum for Paramount distributed pic: $50+M weekend and cume $177M.

Fox’s What Happens in Vegas #2 tonight with $6.8M for $19M-$20M wkd.

Warner Bros’ Speed Racer only $6.6M tonight. Probably gets the kids matinee bump tomorrow and still ends up an oil-leaking #2 for the weekend at awful $23M-$24M.

Sony’s Made of Honor #4 with $2.5M tonight for $8M weekend and cume of $26.6M.

Overall, this weekend’s box office should be up at least 20% over last year’s.

More analysis later…

See my Wkd Prediction: Problem-Plagued ‘Speed Racer’ Distant No. 2 To ‘Iron Man’