Entertainment

Can 'Iron Man 2' beat 'Dark Knight'?

Exactly one month from now, Tony Stark, Pepper Potts and the other personalities of "Iron Man" will return to make witty mayhem in the superhero sequel.

And exactly three days after that, we could have a new domestic box-office record.

According to just-released tracking surveys, director Jon Favreau's second installment in the Marvel franchise is showing astonishing levels of interest and awareness well ahead of its three-day opening next month.

There are enough statistical indications to think that the first-weekend gross could top the $158.4 million haul for "The Dark Knight," the current record-holder for the biggest (non-inflation-adjusted) opening weekend and the gold standards for movie debuts.

Christopher Nolan's Batman sequel grossed that amount when it opened over a three-day weekend in July 2008. The same spring/summer period brought the release of "Iron Man." The character was new to mainstream audiences, star Robert Downey Jr. had yet to engineer his Hollywood comeback, and Favreau was riding a cold streak ("Zathura: A Space Adventure," anyone?). The movie still opened to an impressive $98 million, and went on to gross more than $318 million domestically.

But this year's sequel opening on May 7 should pulverize that $98 million figure.

Thanks in part to Downey, the Paramount-distributed film is drawing as much (strong) interest among women over 30 as it is among women in their 20s, the tracking surveys show. Males in their teens and 20s are so keen on the film they may as well be dressing up in an iron suit. About the only people who aren't fully sold are teen girls, but there are signs of robustness there, too.

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