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Compared to Spider-Man, Superman looks like an 89-pound weakling--at least when it comes to their respective box-office prowess.

Superman Returns, the long-awaited revival of the Man of Steel franchise, took in an estimated $21 million in its Wednesday debut, an opening that was termed "solid" by one analyst, but an opening that fell short--very short--of standards set by Marvel Comics' web spinner.

Overall, Superman Returns--its one-day haul augmented by ticket sales from Tuesday night early-bird screenings--now ranks eighth on the list of all-time Wednesday debuts, just behind War of the Worlds' ($21.3 million) and just ahead of Jurassic Park III's ($19 million).

The all-time Wednesday king? Spider-Man 2, which snared $40.4 million in 2004.

In the annals of all-time biggest openings, regardless of when the opening occurred on the calendar, Superman Returns checks in at 29th place, according to the stats at BoxOfficeMojo.com. Spider-Man 2 checks in at third place; the original Spider-Man, released in 2002, checks in at fifth place ($39.4 million).

In Superman's defense, the Last Son of Krypton is showing more muscle at this early stage than Batman, who took in $15.1 million last year on the occasion of Batman Begins' opening day.

Because Batman Begins was a restart (à la Superman Returns) rather than a sequel (à la Spider-Man 2) and because Batman Begins opened mid-week (à la Superman Returns) and not on a Friday (à la Spider-Man), Paul Dergarabedian of the box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations said the Caped Crusader, not Spider-Man, is the better guidepost for Superman.

"Batman and [even] War of the Worlds are good comparisons--they had the same release pattern, and they opened with the same amount of money," Dergarabedian said Thursday.

As for Superman Returns, specifically? "A solid Wednesday opening," Dergarabedian judged.

Likewise, Warners Bros., the studio which has already seen its big-budget Poseidon sink, found good news in the returns.

"We're well positioned going into this long holiday weekend," Warners exec Dan Fellman told the Associated Press. "The word of mouth on this film is going to carry us through the rest of the summer."

A long run would behoove Warners--Superman Returns reportedly cost more than one-and-a-half Poseidons to produce. Its $250 million price tag is about $50 million less than Batman Begins, a 2005 box-office star for the same studio, made all of last summer. (Worldwide, Batman Begins grossed $371.9 million, per BoxOfficeMojo.com.)

Among superhero movies, Spider-Man (natch) is the all-time box-office champ, thanks to its $403.7 million domestic take. Spider-Man 2 (natch) is the next biggest thing, placing second with $373.4 million.

Batman, who has starred in more movies than Spider-Man, has the most movies in the Exhibitor Relations-compiled Top 10: four. Most impressive, the biggest-grossing Batman movie is the oldest--1989's Batman, which made $251.2 million back when the average U.S. ticket price was under $4, as opposed to today's $6.61 average admission fee.

To date, the top-grossing Superman movie is, and was, 1978's Superman: The Movie, which made $134.2 million the hard way--with movie tickets that, on average, cost $2.34, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners.

The Superman big-screen franchise produced four titles in the 1970s and 1980s, all starring Christopher Reeve and each sequel posting declining box-office results. In just one day, in fact, the Brandon Routh-led Superman Returns outgrossed the entire run of the Reeves-led Superman IV: The Quest for Peace ($15.6 million).

If Routh can end up taking out Tobey Maguire, he'll really be onto something.