Is Thor the Next Iron Man or the Next Hulk?

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Marvel’s latest comic book hero, Thor, has arrived in several countries as it prepares to launch in the US this Friday, May 6 on the heels of its big foreign opening this last weekend where it earned $89.2 million from 56 foreign markets. Including the previous weekend’s Australia opening, Thor‘s nine biggest territories were up an average of 10 percent from Iron Man‘s debut three years ago. However, that Australia opening a week earlier saw Thor fall short of Fast Five as the two opened head-to-head.

But we’re here to talk about Thor‘s domestic prospects. Paramount and Marvel are tamping down expectations and predicting a $50-60 million opening weekend. That would be a good start but well short of the kind of blockbuster status the last two Iron Man films, which opened to $99 mil and $128 mil respectively.

My question for the audience is this? Will Thor meet and beat those expectations and go on to be the next Marvel franchise like Iron Man? Or will it fall short like the two Hulk films or even the pair of Fantastic Four features? Will Thor be the first “must see” film of the summer, or a “meh” flick that Marvel uses as a placeholder while they develop and hype The Avengers? I realize these are questions you could probably apply to Captain America and/or Green Lantern as well, but Thor hits first and we like to remain topical around these parts.

On the plus side, Thor is already racking up some very impressive reviews from around the world. I’m not a big fan of the RottenTomatoes Tomatometer because I often read a less than stellar review that ends up being labeled “fresh” when the reviewer gives the film a so-so 3.5 stars out of 5. On the other hand, the current score of 91% indicates that many critics think the film is entertaining and fun. Yet many reviews do come with qualifiers like this one from Richard Kuipers of Variety, “Thor delivers the goods so long as butt is being kicked and family conflict is playing out in celestial dimensions, but is less thrilling during the Norse warrior god’s rather brief banishment on Earth.”

Also on the plus side is the snappy trailer that made the film look great. I’m often confused by the trailers studios place in the theater these days. I’m sure they’ve gone through focus groups and all that, but all too often modern trailers scream out, “Don’t go see this piece of crap!” Even when the film turns out to be decent. The Thor trailer, on the other hand, got me intrigued to see the film.

Finally, there’s the fact Thor has the playing field to itself on May 6 unless you count the two chick flicks, Jumping The Broom and Something Borrowed that seem to simply serve as counter-programming for those young woman who don’t want to tag along with their friends and significant others to see the new Marvel superhero movie.

If Thor has a downside it may be that outside of the Comic Con crowd no one really knows much about the Marvel version of the Norse God. I remember reading the comic a few times as a kid and for the life of me I don’t remember a thing about him. To me he ranks somewhere below the likes of Sgt. Rock and the Silver Surfer and way below household names like Batman, Superman and Spider-Man. My Mom has never read a comic in her life and even she knows who those superheroes are.

Lack of recognition didn’t stop Iron Man from being a major hit, however. Which brings us to the next possible hurdle for Thor. Casting Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark gave Iron Man instant recognition to moviegoers around the world. It gave the movie an identity it might otherwise not have had with another lead actor. A terrific trailer featuring the Black Sabbath song of the same name didn’t hurt, either.

Thor won’t have that advantage. No one outside of Hollywood casting directors had ever heard of Chris Hemsworth before he was cast as Thor, that is unless you were paying particular attention to the actor that played Kirk’s father in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek. This may indeed turn out to be a breakout role for the hunky Australian, but it’s doubtful he’s putting many fannies in the seat on his own right now. The one-two punch of an unknown actor and an unknown superhero could be fatal unless the film receives incredible word of mouth.

Which brings us to one last negative that could hurt Thor. Obviously, the producers brought Anthony Hopkins on board to give the Thor franchise some much needed name recognition, but for most of my friends and I, Sir Tony has become a symbol of all that is wrong in Hollywood. The one-time Oscar winner’s choice of projects over the last few years has been less than stellar and more often than not he seems to be simply cashing a paycheck. It has been a long time since I’ve seen a decent film starring the legendary English actor, and when I see Hopkins’ name on the marquee I think long and hard before buying a ticket. I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks this. He couldn’t even keep his accents straight in The Wolfman.

So, what do you think? Is Thor the next big comic book franchise for the folks at Marvel? Are you planning to see it opening weekend? Or will this be a one off comic book movie like The Watchmen, Hulk and Daredevil where Thor will likely never be heard from again after an appearance in The Avengers?