I’m told Warner Bros.’ Superman Returns opened Wednesday with $19 million at the U.S. box office. That’s only OK — not great, not terrible, prompting box office guru analysis that the gay whisper campaign which crescendoed into newspapers and on the Internet hurt the movie’s viability as did its star Brandon Routh’s anonymity. (Box Office Mojo put the opening take at $21 mil, but rival studios told me that’s too high.) Predictions are that Superman Returns could muster $100 million for July 4th weekend (which in many American households will continue from Friday through Tuesday). But even that barely puts the film in the 10 top opening Wednesdays. The problem stems not only from the movie’s close to 2-hour 40-minute running time, its $200 mil-$250 mil budget, its mis-marketing campaign, or its emphasis on earnestness rather than simple ol’fashioned fun, but that the movie will get swamped its second weekend out by Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean 2, which continues tracking as the biggest movie opening ever. Major film critics have been split almost down the middle reviewing this film, although Bryan Singer’s direction is generally lauded. Meanwhile, Warner Bros. has been desperately re-tooling its marketing campaign for the movie in light of the studio’s failure to stem the gay buzz surrounding Superman Returns. As late as this week, new TV ads transformed Routh from doe-eyed softie to macho techno-man of steel, borrowing heavily from other comic books successes like Spiderman and X-Men in its look and feel, with special effects set to pounding rap music (cue Terminator-like eyeball suck-out) and no thumpa-thumpa Gloria Gaynor within earshot. For more Hollywood summer movie madness, read my latest LA Weekly column, Super-Manly Makeovers, Slackers and Perkbusters. Meanwhile, the FBI on Wednesday broke up two movie piracy rings that were conspiring to profit from Superman Returns and other films. The mobs specialized in sneaking digital camcorders into theaters and filming newly released movies, then duplicating and distributing millions of bootlegs worldwide. The rings were based in New York City, but sent the counterfeit films using computer file-sharing networks to Pakistan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and other countries. The Motion Picture Association of America says black market schemes like this robbed the film industry of an estimated $18 billion in global revenue in 2005.

For more estimates listed by title, see box office results here...

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