Almost five years to the day after Ang Lee's ill-fated Hulk opened in North America, Marvel Studios took a big stride towards exorcising that painful memory as The Incredible Hulk stormed to the top through Universal and led a bumper box office weekend with a muscular $54.4m estimated launch.

Marvel Studios is reaping the early rewards of autonomy following Iron Man's bullet-proof run and, with that film set to cross the $300m domestic mark this week and a sequel already in the pipeline, the company is on track to delivering a massive maiden summer.

M Night Shyamalan knows a thing or two about critical and commercial flops and returned to the fray for the first time since 2006's disastrous Lady In The Water with The Happening, which exceeded expectations and opened in third place through Fox on $30.5m.

Paramount's Kung Fu Panda fell to second place on $34.3m for $117.9m after two weekends, while stablemate Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull ranks fifth on $275.3m after four weekends and New Line's Sex And The City in sixth has amassed $119.9m after three.

All in all the top 12 films combined for $174.3m and climbed 25% against the same weekend last year.

The Incredible Hulk stars Ed Norton as Bruce Banner, the tortured genius within the rampaging green monster, while Liv Tyler supplies the love interest and William Hurt and Tim Roth provide the menace. Louis Leterrier of The Transporter franchise and Unleashed directed.

The film earned critical points for dispensing with the psychological intricacies of Lee's story and wisely aligned itself with the broadly entertaining sensibilities of the hit TV series from the late 70s and early 80s.

Memories of Hulk's calamitous 69.7% second weekend drop still linger in the mind and of course there will be The Love Guru and Get Smart to contend with, even though the pair doesn't provide direct genre competition. One gets the sense that The Incredible Hulk has the goods to beat Hulk's $132.2m final gross at the very least.

Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel star in The Happening, Shyamalan's first R-rated feature about a mysterious natural crisis that threatens humanity. John Leguizamo also stars.

In the limited arena, Overture's The Visitor has grossed $6.7m and Paramount Vantage's comedy The Foot Fist Way stands at $145,324.

Next weekend sees a powerhouse comedy showdown as in-form Steve Carrell heads Warner Bros' TV adaptation Get Smart and goes against The Love Guru from Paramount, which marks Mike Myers' first on-screen role since The Cat In The Hat five years ago.

Estimated Top 10 North America Jun 13-15, 2008
Film (Dist)/Int'l dist/Est wkd gross/Est total to date
1 (-) The Incredible Hulk (Universal) UPI/Various $54.5m -
2 (1) Kung Fu Panda (Paramount) PPI $34.3m $117.9m
3 (-) The Happening (Fox) Fox Int'l $30.5m -
4 (2) You Don't Mess With The Zohan (Sony) SPRI $16.4m $68.8m
5 (3) Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull (Paramount)
PPI $13.5m $275.3m
6 (4) Sex And The City (New Line/Warner Bros) NLI $10.2m $119.9m
7 (6) Iron Man (Paramount) PPI/Various $5.1m $297.4m
8 (5) The Strangers (Rogue/Universal) UPI $4.1m $45.4m
9 (7) The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Buena Vista) WDSMPI $3m $131.7m
10 (8) What Happens In Vegas (Fox) Fox Int'l $1.7m $75.8m