Anyway, as much as I want to see Iron Man 3, its primary function this weekend will be as a box office savior, and to my earlier point regarding expectations of $300 million absolutely minimum, it's arguable that the first two Iron Man movies represent a turning point for the $300 million gross. In the 90s, $300 million was relatively rarified territory for a domestic box-office take, and while it certainly became more commonplace during the aughts, for a while it was reserved primarily for megafranchises: almost entirely for movies with "Star Wars," "Lord of the Rings," "Harry Potter," or "Spider-Man" in their titles (and even Potter only actually crossed the mark a handful of times). Even the later franchises that revved up to this area—Dark Knight, Pirates of the Caribbean, Shrek, Transformers—had to sort of work up to it through big-but-not-record-breaking first installments (Batman Begins; the first Shrek) or opening weekends (the first Pirates and Transformers movies).
In 2008, Iron Man was the first surprise $300 million grosser that felt a little like something you might call a niche (well, maybe the second after The Passion of the Christ). That's not to say that Iron Man is a cult item; obviously plenty of non-comics folks saw it and liked it. What's more surprising, in retrospect, is its out-of-the-box $100 million opening weekend—people were excited before they even saw it, vaulting Tony Stark to Peter Parker-level recognition. I mean, Sony made a new Spider-Man movie last year and it was taken almost as a given that it wouldn't make as much as any of the Iron Man movies! That's kind of crazy, right? I'd posit that while Iron Man is looked at as a four-quadrant mega-franchise and Twilight is looked it as campy girl stuff (at least in a lot of media), Iron Man is kind of like the dude version of Twilight: a really, really big deal for some people and probably roundly ignored by a large swath of the population. Maybe The Avengers, which must've transcended the young-male demo to some extent to get to $600 million, has changed that, though that also seems kind of strange, the idea that it took The Avengers to turn a bunch of people onto this Iron Man thing. I guess my point is that it seems increasingly rare for a movie to reach outside of its target audience; these summer movies just need to hit their target audience first, and/or hardest, and/or repeatedly.