"Iron Man 3’ launched America's summer blockbuster season with a bang last weekend, having already taken global box offices by storm, industry analysts say.
The super-hero blockbuster sequel smashed to the top at the US box office with a massive US$175.3 million take -- the second best opening weekend ever -- industry estimates showed.
Robert Downey Jr returns as the metal-suited Marvel superhero, in a sequel to the last "Iron Man" movie in 2010, but also playing off the back of last year's comic-book mega hit "The Avengers," which also featured him.
The film, starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Kingsley as well, has already made nearly $200 million around the world in the last week, and could earn a similar sum in its first weekend in North America. The film now sits behind just "The Avengers" -- another Walt Disney comic book superhero flick -- which earned $207.4 million when it opened a year ago.
"The summer firework show has already begun for most of the world. Disney's cash rocket... is expected to light up the box office with $165 million," said Jeff Bock, box office analyst at industry tracker Exhibitor Relations.
That may be short of the best opening weekend box office ever -- $207 million for "The Avengers" -- but it would be the biggest "Iron Man" debut after $98 million for the first one in 2008 and the second three years ago.
Downey Jr was in suitably relaxed mood when promoting the movie recently ahead of its US release, bantering with Paltrow, whose character's teasing romance with his reaches new levels in this movie.
"These guys are wimps, okay? The suit is not that bad," Paltrow said after Downey Jr and metal-clad co-star Don Cheadle complained about how heavy their suits were, and how much they had to wear them on set compared to Paltrow.
The "Iron Man" star shot back: "And Gwyneth by the way, she did come in and she was having a ball, and her kids were there and she was in rockin' shape, so it was all nice and easy. I think she wore it once or twice.
"It's an accumulative issue," he joked at a Beverly Hills press conference, before acknowledging: "I admit, we're wimps."
In the new movie, Tony Stark, his billionaire playboy character who transforms himself into "Iron Man," faces formidable terrorist The Mandarin, played by Kingsley.
There are two baddies in all, with Anglo-Australian actor Guy Pearce playing evil scientist Aldrich Killian, who has developed a fluid that can turn people into superhuman mutants.
"These movies are only ever as good as their bad guys," said Downey Jr, paying tribute to his co-stars -- who in turn heaped praise on the US star actor, who makes fun of his past problems with drugs and the law.
"The truth is that these movies work because Robert has a really big picture creative mind about what these movies should feel like," said Paltrow. "He is always asking... how can we make it feel like something we care about, and we want to watch. So I think... that's why the movies keep working, and they're not a weaker carbon copy of the one before."
Box office analyst Bock noted that in China, "Iron Man 3" made $21.5 million in just one day, a record he said -- compared to $18 million taken by "The Avengers" there over two days last summer.
"In fact, 'Iron Man 3,' straight out of the gate, may be the top movie of the summer," he told AFP, adding that it was "definitely playing like a pseudo-sequel to" last year's "The Avengers."
So will there be an "Iron Man 4?"
"We never could have known what and who was going to come together for the third Iron Man. Usually, the third of anything struggles to even meet the first two, let alone the first one," said Downey Jr.
"So in all earnestness, things are very much in flux right now. Marvel has their plans and we're all living and growing, so we'll see what happens," he added. "The future, as usual, is uncertain."