LOS ANGELES - Niko Bellic is richer than Tony Stark. While vying for similar audiences at the same time, "Grand Theft Auto IV" bested "Iron Man" by about $300 million in their respective first weeks on the small and big screens.
The highly anticipated video game about immigrant gangster Bellic drove away with over $500 million, while the movie about Marvel billionaire superhero Stark blasted off with over $200 million worldwide.
Each figure is a history-maker in its own right: The supercharged "GTA IV" launch topped last year's blockbuster "Halo 3" release, making it the most lucrative debut video games - and, by all accounts, entertainment in general. Meanwhile, "Iron Man" can claim the second-best non-sequel movie opening ever as a consolation prize.
Software publisher Take-Two Interactive bandied the behemoth sales figures on Wednesday, days after "Iron Man" vaunted an unexpectedly huge opening weekend box office. The eye-popping digits left many wondering how such a blockbuster could be so soundly trounced by a controverisal video game.
The simple answer: "GTA IV" costs more to buy.
"'GTA IV"s first-week performance represents the largest launch in the history of interactive entertainment, and we believe these retail sales levels surpass any movie or music launch to date," Take-Two chairman Strauss Zelnick said in an official statement on Wednesday.
Such comparisons aren't entirely fair. Bellic and Stark, for example, play by different rules. Video games are sold online and in stores, a distribution model more like CDs and DVDs than newly released films. However, such similarities end there, because DVDs don't usually involve completely original fare. And CDs typically only contain, well, music.
The reach is vastly different, too: "Iron Man" was released on over 7,000 movie screens while "GTA IV" was available for about 24 million Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles at launch, according to Wedbush Morgan video game analyst Michael Pachter. But to achieve its $100 million weekend milestone, "Iron Man" had to sell more than twice the number of tickets as "GTA IV" units were moved - about six million - in the first week.
Janco Parters video game analyst Mike Hickey originally suspected "GTA IV" could dampen the success of "Iron Man" since both properties were setting their targets on young adults and were being released at about the same time. That doesn't seem to have been the case.
What "GTA IV" did impact was the sale of consoles. Microsoft said Xbox 360 sales jumped 54 percent in the week following the game's launch, compared with the prior week. Sony didn't reveal similar specifics but said there has been a significant spike in PS3 sales.
The contradictions extend beyond distribution. The running time of "Iron Man" is two hours and six minutes. "GTA IV" isn't nearly that linear; the game's criminal missions - which players can stop and start anytime - can take 60 hours to complete, not counting hours of multiplayer matches or exploration of Liberty City, the highly detailed virtual urban locale where "GTA IV" takes place.
But undoubtedly, the most influential contrast is cost. The standard edition of "GTA IV" is $59.99, while a special edition goes for $89.99 and comes with a soundtrack, art book, duffel bag and safety deposit box. Either way, every time a copy of the game is rung up, what's added to the week's tally is significantly more than the $7 average ticket price to see a movie in the U.S.
Quantifying the game's lucrative launch is trickier against other mediums. The book "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" sold more than 10 million copies at launch. That's acutally four million more than Bellic, but the Hogwarts student's final adventure cost about half as much as Bellic's mature-rated exploits.
There's one group that Bellic, Stark and Potter all individually reign supreme over: 'Nsync.
The pop quintet's "No Strings Attached" holds the record for biggest first-week CD sales with 2.4 million copies when it was released in 2000, according to Nielsen SoundScan. That's far meeker than the first-week success of "Iron Man," "Deathly Hallows" and "GTA IV."
Maybe the Eastern European gangster, boozy billionaire and boy wizard should form a boy band.