The long-awaited and much hyped opening of Superman Returns at 3,915 theaters resulted in a Wednesday box office take estimated at $21million, only the eighth best mid-week debut in Hollywood history.  Superman Returns fell far short of Spider-Man 2's mammoth $40.4 million Wednesday opening during the last week of June in 2004, and didn't come close to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which took in $34.4 million in December of 2003.  Bryan Singer's new Superman film averaged $5,374 per venue, a far cry from Spider-Man 2's $9,741. 


While Superman Returns' opening, which ranks as the 29th best all-time, was far from spectacular, it was solid and it far surpassed Batman Begins' $15 million debut.  Since Batman Begins went on to earn $205 million domestically, Superman Returns might well end up as the most popular film of 2005 if it develops Batman Begins-type legs.  Superman Returns opening was almost exactly the same as last year's War of the Worlds, which opened on the last Wednesday in June and earned $21.3 million on its way to a total of $234.3 million.  War of the Worlds managed to earn a six-day (Wed. through Mon.) July 4th weekend total of $112.7 million.  With the 4th falling on a Tuesday this year Superman Returns will have an extra day to work with and should surpass the WOW total.


Superman Returns' Wednesday total of $21 million includes Tuesday night showings, which began at 10 pm and may have contributed up to $4 million to the total as well as an estimated $1.2 million from IMAX showings.  Fans who attended the first day festivities were overwhelmingly male (58%) and evenly split between the over and under 25 age bracket.  Warner Bros. is hoping to close the gender gap and attract a higher percentage of younger viewers by the weekend when Superman Returns up its theater total to 4,065 (the film is already on more than 8,200 screens). 


It should be interesting to see how Superman Returns fares during its first week of release.  With a cost conservatively estimated at $250 million, the film will have do at least that in its domestic release to be considered a surefire hit.  Superman Returns' foreign release will be staggered due to the World Cup, so the jury will be out for quite some time on the Man of Steel's performance and the future viability of the property as a cinema blockbuster franchise.  Income from foreign sales is increasingly important to today's mega-budget superhero action pictures--Spider-Man 2 actually made more money overseas than it did in the U.S. whereas Batman Begins did 56% of its business domestically.