By DAVID GERMAIN
AP Movie Writer
Iron Man reigns as the standard-bearer of Hollywood superheroes with a $175.3 million domestic opening weekend for his latest sequel and an overseas haul of a half-billion dollars in less than two weeks.
According to studio estimates Sunday, “Iron Man 3″ has raced to a worldwide total of $680.1 million. That includes $175.9 million in its second weekend overseas, where the film has rung up $504.8 million so far. No other solo superhero–not even Batman or Spider-Man–has managed this kind of business.
Yet the future of Marvel Studios’ flagship franchise is in the hands of a mortal man with no metal armor, gadgets or special powers, other than his ability to rebound from Hollywood pariah to hottest star on the planet.
Could Disney’s Marvel Studios conjure anywhere near the same magic if it relaunched “Iron Man” with another actor? Without Downey, would the upcoming “Avengers” sequel have quite the same appeal as last year’s record-grossing first installment?
In just nine days, the film shot past the $312 million international total for “Iron Man 2″ in its entire theatrical run.
Among the overseas totals so far: $63.5 million in China, $42.6 million in South Korea, $38.3 million in Great Britain and $35.8 million in Mexico.
Domestically, “Iron Man 3″ far outpaced the franchise’s first two movies. “Iron Man” launched the series with a $98.6 million domestic debut in 2008, while 2010’s “Iron Man 2″ opened with $128.1 million.
The film also opened higher than last year’s Batman finale “The Dark Knight Rises” ($160.9 million) and the biggest of the Spider-Man movies ($151.1 million for “Spider-Man 3″).
If Downey doesn’t sign on for more, it would leave a gaping hole in the expanding superhero universe Marvel is taking to the big-screen.
Downey seems just as vital to “The Avengers.” That ensemble probably could thrive without him, given how the first film and previous solo superhero adventures have established a team that includes Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, Chris Evans’ Captain America, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk.
But without Downey, Marvel might have to settle for something less than the colossal $1.5 billion worldwide results for “The Avengers.”
Before convincing reluctant Marvel executives that he was the man to put on the metal suit, Downey still was trying to live down drug addiction and jail time in his 20s and 30s that nearly ruined his career.
The success of “Iron Man” led to another blockbuster franchise in “Sherlock Holmes,” and Downey’s professional choices now look limitless.
In an interview before the release of “Iron Man 3,” Downey said that “Avengers” director Joss Whedon had been editing a first cut of that film and told him the movie didn’t really start until Stark and girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) appeared together on screen.
Downey said that was a testament to the groundwork laid years earlier in “Iron Man,” which “when we were shooting it, this kind of became the heart of several franchises.”
While it was a huge weekend for Marvel and Disney, the overall industry continued to slump, thanks to the record start for “The Avengers” over the same weekend a year ago. Domestic revenues this weekend totaled $219 million, down 15 percent from the $258.1 million during that “Avengers” weekend last year.
Hollywood’s domestic revenue this year is at $3.14 billion, off 11 percent from 2012’s pace, according to Hollywood.com.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Where available, latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.
1. “Iron Man 3,” $175.3 million ($175.9 million international).
2. “Pain & Gain,” $7.6 million.
3. “42,” $6.2 million.
4. “Oblivion,” $5.8 million ($6.5 million international).
5. “The Croods,” $4.2 million ($17.4 million international).
6. “The Big Wedding,” $3.9 million ($2.5 million international).
7. “Mud,” $2.2 million.
8. “Oz the Great and Powerful,” $1.8 million.
9. “Scary Movie 5,” $1.4 million ($4 million international).
10. “The Place Beyond the Pines,” $1.3 million.
Estimated weekend ticket sales at international theaters (excluding the U.S. and Canada) for films distributed overseas by Hollywood studios, according to Rentrak:
1. “Iron Man 3,” $175.9 million.
2. “The Croods,” $17.4 million.
3. “Oblivion,” $6.5 million.
4 (tie). “Les Profs,” $4 million.
4 (tie). “Scary Movie 5,” $4 million.
6 (tie). “The Big Wedding,” $2.5 million.
6 (tie). “Olympus Has Fallen,” $2.5 million.
6 (tie). “Somos Tao Jovens,” $2.5 million.
9. “Evil Dead,” $2.47 million.
10. “Jurassic Park” in 3-D, $1.4 million.
Universal and Focus are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp.; Sony, Columbia, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; Paramount is owned by Viacom Inc.; Disney, Pixar and Marvel are owned by The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is owned by Filmyard Holdings LLC; 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are owned by News Corp.; Warner Bros. and New Line are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a group of former creditors including Highland Capital, Anchorage Advisors and Carl Icahn; Lionsgate is owned by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; IFC is owned by AMC Networks Inc.; Rogue is owned by Relativity Media LLC.