'Avengers' record sets up weekend bonanza, topping 'Star Wars'

The Avengers have an early edge over The Force.

"Avengers: Endgame" took in a domestic record of $60m in Thursday night preview shows, setting up what will probably be an all-time high opening this weekend. The day’s previous record was held by "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," also part of the Disney stable, which earned $57m from Thursday previews in 2015.

Faster than the Milano on its way to Xandar with Korath the Pursuer hot on its trail, "Endgame" has already set a $107m record for single-day ticket sales in China, where it opened Wednesday. The film spread to 4 662 US and Canada theater screens Friday, another industry record. Outside the US and Canada, the film has grossed about $305m in its first two days.

The picture, the latest installment from Walt Disney’s Marvel studio, caps a 22-movie storyline that began with "Iron Man" in 2008. The Avengers superheroes, including Captain America, Hulk and Black Widow, are now battling the intergalactic villain Thanos, who was last seen wiping out half the living creatures in the universe.

Estimates for the weekend grosses in the US and Canada run as high as $320m, according to Box Office Pro and Box Office Mojo. Exhibitor Relations puts the three-day number at $295m, while the Hollywood Stock Exchange predicts $292m. Disney itself, which is usually cautious with forecasts, suggested an opening weekend in the $300m range on Friday.

Anything above $258m will set the record, one established just last year by Marvel’s earlier installment: "Avengers: Infinity War."

"The $60m taken in from Thursday night previews is the highest ever, and suggests a domestic tally of more than $800m, with a potential to break $2.5bn globally. That could also help movie theaters get a boost, potentially offsetting the 17% slump year-to-date," said Geetha Ranganathan, senior industry analyst.

Pop-culture moment

"'Endgame' is the culmination of an entire universe of films," said Exhibitor Relations’ Jeff Bock. "The only thing shocking would be if 'Endgame' didn’t turn the record books into dust."

"Endgame" has already achieved status as a pop-culture moment, with theaters running marathon screenings of the 21 previous movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Websites like IGN.com are even suggesting the best times to use the bathroom during the new film’s 3-hour-plus running time.

Critics have generally praised the picture, which earned a stellar 96% aggregate approval rating from reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes.

"A film that should feel overlong and overstuffed rings purposeful, weighted with existential truth even as it flashes before our eyes," the Chicago Reader’s Leah Pickett wrote in her review.

Next comes speculation of what other records "Endgame" might break. With this kind of juice, there’s every reason to believe it will challenge the $2.07bn worldwide gross of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," set in 2015. Only two other films in Hollywood history have taken in more: "Avatar" in 2009 and "Titanic," released in 1997.

One thing is clear: The Marvel machine has been a huge moneymaker for Disney. Last year’s "Infinity War," for example, earned an estimated $985m in profit, including TV, toys and theater ticket sales, according to estimates from Kagan, S&P Global Intelligence.

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