Joss Whedon's The Avengers has set a new bar in opening to a walloping $200.3 million at the domestic box office, the largest debut ever and kicking off summer 2012 in high style.
The 3D tentpole -- marking a major victory for Disney and Marvel Studios -- easily dethroned Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, which opened to $169.2 million last summer, then the largest bow in history.
Avengers opened a week ago overseas, earning a whopping $441.5 million through Sunday. The pic's worldwide total of $641.8 million
already has surpassed the lifetime totals of Captain America: The First Avenger ($364 million), Thor ($449 million), Iron Man ($585 million) and Iron Man 2 ($624 million).
The pic -- which assembles Marvel superhero characters Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) -- earned a glowing A+ CinemaScore.
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Avengers is now positioned to reach $1 billion in global grosses in a much-needed win for Disney, which posted a $200 million loss after John Carter cratered at the box office this year. It's also a validation of Marvel's strategy to build a franchise by turning out single titles -- Iron Man, its sequel, Thor and Captain America -- and then bring the characters together. Avengers also could reboot the Hulk film franchise.
Among other records, Avengers is the first film to cross $200 million in only three days of play at the domestic box office. It also scored the biggest Saturday gross of all time, earning $69.7 million.
"It's been a fantastic weekend on every single front," Disney executive vp distribution Dave Hollis said.
Hollis said the slim 13 percent drop from Friday to Saturday reflects great word-of-mouth, as well as the fact that all segments of the audience are turning out, including families. Roughly 52 percent saw it in 3D.
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The tentpole played evenly in terms of age, with 50 percent of the audience under the age of 25 and 50 percent over. Couples made up 55 percent, families 24 percent and teens 21 percent. Males represented 60 percent of the audience.
Imax theaters reported record business, generating north of $15 million in ticket sales domestically to tie with Deathly Hallows Part 2 for the biggest opening weekend in the circuit's history. The giant-screen exhibitor expects to finish the weekend with a worldwide cume of $31.2 million.
Avengers is the first Marvel title marketed and distributed by Disney since buying Marvel. Paramount distributed Marvel's previous films and, in exchange for ending its output deal early with Marvel, will receive a minimum of $115 million in distribution fees for Avengers and next summer's Iron Man 3.
Avengers was the only wide release of the weekend. At the specialty box office, Fox Searchlight looked to counterprogram with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which opened in 27 theaters in 12 markets. Marigold grossed $750,301 for a pleasing per-location average of $27,789.
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Fox Searchlight's Sheila DeLoach said the film -- which has already a stellar $72 million overseas -- succeeded in luring baby boomers, evidenced by sold-out matinee and early evening shows. Marigold stars Judi Dench, Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson.
For full box office results, see below.
Domestic box office, May 4-6