Filmmaker Kenneth Branagh: Thor points

Sure, Thor opened at No. 1 on the box-office charts this past weekend, taking in a whopping $66 million.

But it's not like director Kenneth Branagh is unfamiliar with the sensation of being the leader of the pack. He's been there before, as he's quick to point out - 20 years ago, with Dead Again, his second film.

"Many moons ago, Dead Again was cleverly opened in the gap between the end of the summer and the logjam of award-winning pictures," he says in a telephone interview. "And it was No. 1 for two weeks. It was wildly exciting, although it was not a vast sum." (It took in $6.3 million on Labor Day weekend, $4.3 million the weekend after.)

As he spoke, Branagh was still a few days away from the American opening of Thor, though tracking polls had it as a shoo-in to grab the top of the box-office chart on its opening weekend.

"It's an exciting feeling," the 50-year-old actor-director says. Then, perhaps superstitiously, he says, "But we still have to deliver it to the American public."

Branagh, who burst on to the scene in his 20s with his theater work and his first film, 1989's Henry V (for which he became one of the youngest Oscar nominees ever for best director), has built a career that, with detours, has revolved around his love of and reverence for William Shakespeare. So some have sniffed at the idea of Branagh directing a comic-book movie about a hammer-swinging Norse god, as though it were beneath him.

"That's a bit silly to say," Branagh says. "The assumption there is that a comic-book movie is shallower. Or that it's somehow easy to do. But it is in no way easy to make a popular entertainment. People don't just respond to noise and kerfuffle. Without a story, it can feel very empty."