North American audiences got a big taste of what international movie fans have already been enjoying as the super hero value pack The Avengers smashed the all-time opening weekend record kickstarting the summer blockbuster season in an unbelievable manner. Marketed and distributed by Disney, the PG-13 film grossed a jaw-dropping $200.3M over the Friday-to-Sunday period obliterating the previous record of $169.2M set last July by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 surpassing it by more than $30M. Both films were helped by 3D and IMAX runs. Playing in 4,349 locations, the per-theater average was a scorching $46,063.
Many years in the making following solo movies from Marvel and Paramount, The Avengers was always expected to have one of the biggest debuts of all-time but the eventual turnout was even more than expected. Disney staked its claim on the May 4 weekend early on scaring away all other studios as no other film opened in wide release. That allowed Avengers to book extra screens within every megaplex thereby boosting its grossing potential. Getting a sixth or seventh screen is extra hard in June and July when so many tentpoles are playing side by side. The super heroes dominated the marketplace sucking up 80% of the entire box office this weekend. After just a single weekend, Avengers has already beaten the total grosses of every Hulk, Captain America, and Thor film.
The record-breaking weekend kicked off on Friday with a towering $80.5M marking the second best opening day ever trailing the $91.1M of the final Potter. But as is normally the case with early May films when schools are still in session, the Saturday decline was not as high as the teen wizard’s which was a July release. Avengers dropped 13% to $69.7M making for the best Saturday gross ever by far beating the $51.3M of 2007’s Spider-Man 3. Disney is estimating a 28% decline for Sunday which would put it at $50.1M. Even if the forecast proves to be a little optimistic, it would still break the record for the biggest Sunday gross in history. That milestone has been held for four years by The Dark Knight’s $43.6M. Thursday night midnight grosses were $18.7M which was far short of a record but the Avengers audience was more patient and did not have as much upfront demand to see the first possible show that Harry Potter and Twilight audiences have displayed.
If the estimate holds, Avengers will also set a new speed record for breaking the double-century mark. Rival studios projected the weekend estimate to be in the $195-201M range. The Saturday drop for Avengers was in line with Marvel’s biggest pics opening over this same frame like Spider-Man 3 (-14%) and Iron Man 2 (-11%) while the projected Sunday drop falls in between the 22% of Spidey and the 32% of the second Iron Man. Avengers is certainly better liked by the fans than those sequels as it earned a perfect A+ CinemaScore which the studio hopes indicates good word-of-mouth that will spark repeat business as well as a broadening of the audience.
Studio research showed that the S.H.I.E.L.D. team skewed much more to guys, as expected. 61% of the audience was male while those over and under the age of 25 were split evenly. 52% of the gross ($104M) came from 3D screens including the 275 domestic IMAX 3D runs. That’s a higher share than the 38% of Captain America, but lower than the 60% of Thor – both released last summer as Marvel’s first 3D super hero flicks. Those films along with the Iron Man movies and 2008’s The Incredible Hulk slowly and steadily built up excitement for the eventual teaming of all the characters in The Avengers and the payoff was colossal. Paramount marketed and distributed most of those past films for Marvel and won the right to have its studio logo in the new film and on its marketing materials even though Marvel owner Disney performed those duties this time.
Aside from the talent and companies involved, other winners this weekend were films with trailers playing in front of Avengers. Trailer space was the most valuable real estate in the business and upcoming hits like The Dark Knight Rises scored big by getting new previews into the hands of exhibitors in time for what ended up being roughly 20 million sets of captive eyeballs looking at their big screens. If audiences liked what they saw and come back for more, it could truly be a record-breaking summer at the box office. The new Batman releases on July 20 positioned as the conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy while a rebooted 3D webslinger arrives on July 3 with The Amazing Spider-Man from Marvel and Sony. The super hero titles could easily soak up over $3 billion in global box office this summer. Also benefiting this weekend was Disney’s megaflop John Carter which was paired with Avengers in double features which pumped some extra dollars into the underwhelming bank account of the pricey Mars stinker which now stands at $70.6M domestically. In fact, if theaters didn’t take their share and Disney kept the entire opening weekend gross for Avengers, it would be just enough to wipeout the mammoth loss it took on Carter.
The road ahead is promising for Nick Fury and his team. With terrific word-of-mouth the totals will climb very high, very fast. Comic book films – even ones that are loved as much as this one – tend to drop hard on the second weekend but even a 60% tumble would put the sophomore tally at $80M with a ten-day cume in the neighborhood of $320M. A better hold would up that figure even more. The Dark Knight, which also broke the all-time opening weekend record and was a huge crowd-pleaser, fell 53% in its second round.
Overseas, crowds continued to come out for The Avengers which launched its global release a week before domestic. Powered by muscular debuts in China and Russia, the international weekend hauled in an estimated $151.5M from 52 territories boosting the overseas cume to a staggering $441.5M after 12 days. That put the global tally at an incredible $641.8M with the super hero squad set to shatter the $1 billion worldwide mark as early as next Sunday. Leading the way so far are the U.K. with $48.1M, Mexico with $40.2M, Australia with $32.2M, and Korea with $31.3M. Russia debuted on Thursday with a solid $17.9M in its first day while China opened Saturday with $17.4M. American action films, especially ones in 3D and IMAX, perform exceptionally well there.
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Grosses for holdovers looked just plain puny by comparison as no film managed to break double-digit millions this weekend. Two-time chart-topper Think Like a Man plunged 55% and ranked second with an estimated $8M giving the hit comedy $73M to date. Sony’s low-cost $13M production looks set to finish with about $90M.
Enjoying its final days as North America’s top-grossing film of 2012, The Hunger Games dropped 47% to an estimated $5.7M boosting the cume to $380.7M putting it at number 14 on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters just a hair behind Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2’s $381M which of course included a big chunk of 3D surcharges. Zac Efron’s The Lucky One followed with an estimated $5.5M, off 49%, giving Warner Bros. $47.9M to date.
The animated entry The Pirates! Band of Misfits placed fifth with an estimated $5.4M, down 52%, for a $18.6M sum to date for Sony. Universal’s comedy The Five-Year Engagement fell 52% to an estimated $5.1M while the Relativity thriller The Raven tumbled 66% in its sophomore frame to an estimated $2.5M. Lukewarm cumes stand at $19.2M and $12M, respectively.
Another sophomore tumbling down to an estimated $2.5M was Jason Statham’s action pic Safe which got pummeled by some other action film entering the marketplace falling 69%. Lionsgate has banked just $12.9M in ten days. Disney’s nature doc Chimpanzee followed with an estimated $2.4M, off 54%, for a $23M sum. The Three Stooges rounded out the top ten with an estimated $1.8M, down 65%, giving Fox $39.6M to date.
In limited release, the international comedy The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel opened to an estimated $750,000 from 27 theaters in a dozen major markets for a solid average of $27,789. Directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) and starring an ensemble cast led by Judi Dench, the well-reviewed film expands Friday and throughout May across North America. The Fox Searchlight release has already grossed an impressive $72.4M from its overseas run.
The top ten films grossed an estimated $239.2M which was up a stunning 57% from last year when Thor opened to $65.7M; and up 43% from 2010 when Iron Man 2 bowed at number one with $128.1M.