The movie topped director M. Night Shyamalan's "The Happening," a thriller starring Mark Wahlberg that opened in third place with $30.5 million, box-office tracker Media by Numbers said Sunday.
"Marvel's strategy is franchise, franchise, franchise," Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media by Numbers, said in an interview. "They've already said there will be an 'Iron Man 2.' "
Edward Norton stars in "The Incredible Hulk" as Bruce Banner, a scientist whose genetic experiments to create a super-human soldier go awry. Banner is infected with a strain that transforms him into the powerful Hulk when angered, forcing him into hiding and a life that attempts to maintain calm at all times. Tim Roth co-stars as a soldier who infects himself with a more dangerous strain.
Director Ang Lee's 2003 "Hulk," starring Eric Bana and Nick Nolte, opened in the U.S. with $62.1 million in ticket sales and went on to collect $242 million worldwide. Fans of the "Hulk" comic books and the television series that began in 1978 were disappointed, Dergarabedian said.
"Fans furious with Ang Lee's artsy 2003 flick about Marvel's green behemoth can finally breathe a sigh of relief," Tyler Hanley said last week in the Palo Alto Weekly.
"The Happening" got mostly negative reviews, with only 19 positive write-ups out of 97 tracked on film review compendium RottenTomatoes.com on Friday. News Corp., whose 20th Century Fox is distributing "The Happening," owns RottenTomatoes.com.
In the movie, Wahlberg plays a father who tries to escape from a crisis that poses a threat to humanity. Zooey Deschanel and John Leguizamo co-star.
Gitesh Pandya, editor of BoxOfficeGuru.com, projected about $53 million in weekend ticket sales for "Hulk" and $22 million for "The Happening." That would be the second-lowest of Shyamalan's movies after 2006's "Lady in the Water."
"His box-office track record is all over the map," Dergarabedian said. "It's kind of a roller coaster, but it's a stronger track record than people give him credit."
"Kung Fu Panda," the animated comedy with the voice of Jack Black, dropped to second place from first with sales of $34.3 million. The film was produced by DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. and distributed by Paramount Pictures.
Adam Sandler's "You Don't Mess With the Zohan," from Sony Corp., fell to fourth place from second with sales of $16.4 million.
Paramount's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" fell to fifth from third with $13.5 million. The fourth installment in the series starring Harrison Ford has earned $275.3 million since its May 23 debut.
Rounding out the top 10 were Time Warner Inc.'s "Sex and the City" in sixth with $10.2 million in ticket sales; "Iron Man" in seventh place with $5.13 million; NBC Universal's Rogue Pictures' "The Strangers" in eighth with $4.1 million; Walt Disney Co.'s "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" in ninth with $3 million; and News Corp.'s "What Happens in Vegas" in 10th with $1.7 million.
Revenue for the top 12 movies rose 25% to $174.3 million from $140 million a year earlier, Media by Numbers said. Box-office sales this year are down 0.3% to $4.06 billion. Attendance is down 3.1% from a year earlier.