May 13 (TheWrap.com) - At $40 million, the headlines would have been "'Iron Man' Crushes 'Gatsby'."
At $51 million, it was "'Gatsby' Dazzles, But Can't Catch 'Iron Man.'"
In the world of summer box-office and blockbusters, $10 million normally doesn't mean that much. But it was huge for "The Great Gatsby," which opened this weekend at about that much over what analysts were projecting a week ago.
At $51 million, "Gatsby" was seen as a hit -- and the fallout from that should greatly help it over the next few weeks.
The reality of the film doesn't change. It's still a big, glitzy $105 million take on F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel from the stylish writer-director Baz Luhrmann, featuring A-list star Leonardo DiCaprio at the top of his game, a strong supporting cast and a cool soundtrack from Jay-Z -- a 1920s costume drama that skews very female in a season typically dominated by sequels and superheroes.
Indeed, last fall's decision by Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow to shift "Gatsby" from last Christmas -- when it would have faced competition from "Les Miserables" -- looks like a counter-programming masterstroke.
At $40 million, it might have struggled to reach $100 million. At $50 million, it has a very good shot at hitting $120 million for its domestic run -- or even higher.
The positive buzz from the strong debut greatly increases its chances of holding up well this week against "Star Trek Into Darkness" and the following weekend, when "Hangover III" and 'Fast and Furious 6" hit theaters.
The strong U.S. debut also will turn Wednesday's premiere at the Cannes Film Festival into a victory lap for Luhrmann, which should in turn provide major momentum for the film's foreign rollout, which begins this weekend.
"I think analysts, and maybe at one point moviegoers, were skeptical because of the nature of the film, along with the fact that Luhrmann has never really had a big box-office success," Exhibitor Relations vice president and senior analyst Jeff Bock told TheWrap." He always seemed ready for a breakout hit -- it just took him 20 years to do it."
Luhrmann's directorial debut came on 1993's "Strictly Ballroom," and "The Great Gatsby" is just his fifth film. His most recent effort was "Australia," which cost $130 million to make and took in a disappointing $211 million worldwide for Fox in 2008.
"I'm guessing he won't wait another five years to make a movie," Bock said.
Being the only major movie in the market that directly targeted women -- on Mother's Day weekend, no less -- certainly helped "Gatsby." Six of 10 people who went to see it were women, and a similar number were over the age of 35.
"This is a great start to the summer for us," Warner Bros. President of Domestic Distribution Dan Fellman told TheWrap. "We feel really good about the next few weeks."
Fellman is convinced "Gatsby" will play steadily in the next few weeks, and could see an unusual boost.
Movies typically show box-office "legs" by attracting older moviegoers, who normally don't rush out on opening nights, in their second and third weeks. That was the case with the studio's Jackie Robinson movie "42," which opened to $27 million last month and has taken in $58 million since then.
What's more, Fellman said that exit polling indicated that younger viewers actually liked "Gatsby" more than the overall audience, which gave it a "B" CinemaScore. If "Gatsby" can broaden its base to include more young people and continue to draw older audiences, it should thrive.
To that end, look for the studio to continue to its massive marketing campaign, which very much targets the young crowd by playing up the hip-hop soundtrack. (What you won't see is a focus on 3D; even though the majority of the 3,350 theaters showed it in the format, just 33 percent of the grosses on opening weekend came from 3D.)
Bock thinks it will work.
"The music matters on this movie, especially with the young crowd," Exhibitor Relations' Bock said, "and the fact is, 'Gatsby' is still on just about every student's must-read list. You have to figure that will pique their interest.
"Or maybe they'll go see the movie instead of reading the book."