Iron Man sees Robert Downey Jr make a comeback as an action hero
Iron Man has proved its mettle and exceeded box office expectations by taking an estimated $101m (£51m) in its opening weekend in the US and Canada.
If the figures are confirmed, the comic book adaptation will become one of only 10 films to have broken the $100m barrier in its first three days.
Iron Man stars Robert Downey Jr as the comic book hero, with Gwyneth Paltrow playing his personal assistant.
It had been expected to take $70m-$80m (£35m-£40m) between Friday and Sunday.
Downey Jr plays a billionaire industrialist who invents a high-tech suit of armour that transforms him into a superhero.
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Iron Man's takings represent a successful comeback for the actor, the star of early 1990s hits Chaplin and Air America, whose battles with drugs had seen his career suffer in recent years.
It also marks the start of the summer blockbuster season and is the first film to be made by Marvel Studios, a new division of the comic book company.
TOP HOLLYWOOD DEBUTS
Spider-Man 3 - $151m
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest - $136m
Shrek the Third - $122m
Spider-Man - $115m
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End - $115m
Star Wars: Episode III - $108m
Shrek 2 - $108m
X-Men: The Last Stand - $103m
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - $103m
Iron Man - $101m
Figures are for US & Canada opening weekend takings. Source: Boxofficemojo.com
Around the world, Iron Man took a further $97m (£49m) in 57 countries, punishing its global total past $200m (£101m), including takings from US previews on Thursday.
"It's the perfect way to start the new studio, to blast it off," Marvel Studios Chairman David Maisel told the Reuters news agency.
"We're fortunate to have this powerful Marvel brand which means something for movie-goers around the world."
The record for the highest opening weekend takings in North America is held by another Marvel creation, Spider-Man, whose third movie debuted with $151m (£77m) in 2007.
The next Marvel production will be a new version of The Incredible Hulk starring Edward Norton, to be released in June.
Romantic comedy Made of Honor, starring Grey's Anatomy heart-throb Patrick Dempsey, was a distant second in this weekend's box office chart, taking $15.5m (£8m).
Last week's number one Baby Mama dropped to third with $10m (£5m).
Forgetting Sarah Marshall was fourth, followed by Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay.