'Avengers: Endgame' obliterates records with $1.2bn opening

Mark Ruffalo in a scene from 'Avengers: Endgame.' (AP)
Mark Ruffalo in a scene from 'Avengers: Endgame.' (AP)

New York — The universe belongs to Marvel. Avengers: Endgame shattered the record for biggest opening weekend with an estimated $350m in ticket sales domestically and $1.2bn globally, reaching a new pinnacle in the blockbuster era that the comic-book studio has come to dominate.

The Avengers finale far exceeded even its own gargantuan expectations, according to studio estimates Sunday. The movie had been forecast to open between $260m and $300m in U.S. and Canadian theatres, but moviegoers turned out in such droves that Endgame blew past the previous record of $257.7m, set last year by Avengers: Infinity War when it narrowly surpassed The Force Awakens.

Endgame was just as enormous overseas. Worldwide, it obliterated the previous record of $640.5m, also set by Infinity War. (Infinity War didn't open in China, the world's second largest movie market, until two weeks after its debut.) Endgame set a new weekend record in China, too, where it made $330.5m.

In one fell swoop, Endgame has already made more than movies like Skyfall, Aquaman and The Dark Knight Rises grossed in their entire runs, not accounting for inflation.

Alan Horn, Disney chairman, credited Marvel Studios and its president, Kevin Feige, for challenging "notions of what is possible at the movie theatre."

"This weekend's monumental success is a testament to the world they've envisioned, the talent involved, and their collective passion, matched by the irrepressible enthusiasm of fans around the world," Horn said in a statement.

To accommodate demand, the Walt Disney Co. released Endgame in more theatres — 4 662 in the U.S. and Canada — than any opening before. Advance ticketing services set new records. Early ticket buyers crashed AMC's website. And starting Thursday, some theatres even stayed open 72 hours straight.

"We've got some really tired staff," said John Fithian, president and chief executive of the National Association of Theater Owners. "I talked to an exhibitor in Kansas who said, 'I've never sold out a 7 a.m. show on Saturday morning before,' and they were doing it all across their circuit."

Not working in the film's favour was its lengthy running time: 161 minutes. But theatres dedicated more screens to Endgame than any movie before it to satiate the frenzy around Joe and Anthony Russo's film, one which ties together the Avengers storyline as well as the previous 21 releases of the Marvel "cinematic universe" begun with 2008's "Iron Man."

For an industry dogged by uncertainty over the growing role of streaming, the weekend was a mammoth display of the movie theater's lucrative potency. Fithian called it possibly "the most significant moment in the modern history of the movie business."

"We're looking at more than 30 million American and more than 100 million global guests that experienced 'Endgame' on the big screen in one weekend," Fithian said. "The numbers are just staggering."

Further boosting the results for Endgame were good reviews; it currently ranks as 96% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, the best rating for any Marvel movie aside from Black Panther.

If there was any shadow to the weekend for the theatrical business, it was in just how reliant theaters have grown on one studio: Disney.

Disney now holds all but one of the top 12 box-office openings of all time. (Universal's Jurassic World is the lone exception.) The studio is poised for a record-breaking year, with releases including AladdinToy Story 2, The Lion King, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Frozen 2 on the horizon.

Following its acquisition of 20th Century Fox, Disney is expected to account for at least 40% of domestic box-office revenue in 2019, a new record of market share. The company's Captain Marvel — positioned as a kind of Marvel lead-in to Endgame — also rose to No. 2 on the weekend, eight weeks after it opened.

But theatre owners regularly speak of a "halo effect" around a movie like Endgame. Such sensations draw in new moviegoers and expose millions to a barrage of movie trailers.

An enormous hit was much needed for a box office that, coming into the weekend, was lagging 16% of the pace of last year's ticket sales, according to Comscore. Endgame moved the needle a little, but the boost was less since Infinity War opened on the same weekend in 2018.

No other new wide release dared to open against Endgame. The guessing game will now shift to just how much higher Endgame can go. Given its start, it's likely to rival the top three worldwide grossers: The Force Awakens ($2.068bn in 2015), Titanic ($2.187bn in 1997) and Avatar ($2.788bn  in 2009).

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