Almost exactly 10 years ago, the box-office world experienced a shockwave caused by the arrival of Spider-Man. Released on the first weekend of May 2002, the comic book adaptation managed the unthinkable – it became the first movie in history to open above $100 million. Not only did it break the barrier, it crushed it with a $114.8 million opening over the first three days, besting the previous opening weekend record by over $24 million. It was an incredible number that, combined with terrific legs, led to a total gross above $400 million making Spider-Man only the third movie ever to pass $400 million during its first run. Five years later, Spider-Man 3 handily reclaimed the opening weekend record from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest with a $151.1 million start – the first film ever to open above $150 million. Another five years later, it was once again an adaptation of a Marvel comic that managed the unimaginable. According to the weekend estimates The Avengers made over $200 million in its opening weekend, obviously being the first movie ever to do so. Its opening weekend alone would mark the 11th-highest aggregated weekend gross ever. Together with the holdovers, this weekend will go down as the 5th-biggest ever and the biggest one outside of July or the holiday season. The $242.1 million weekend cume is up an astounding 149.3% from the previous weekend and also represents a sound 55.9% increase over the same weekend last year when Marvel’s Thor ruled the box-office. As expected, the holdovers were all crushed by The Avengers with the best drop in the Top 10 being 47.3%.
As huge and unexpected The Hunger Games’ opening weekend was, the box-office story of the year for now will be The Avengers. The unprecedented project that spins off from Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Incredible Hulk amassed an unimaginable $200.3 million from 4,349 theatres for an unheard of per-theatre-average of $46,057. There are not enough superlatives to describe this opening weekend. The Avengers has always been a programmed hit, but barely anyone expected it to break out in this fashion. Just think about it for a moment and let it soak in: The Avengers made more during its first three days than Captain America: The First Avenger or Thor did in total. In fact, it should take The Avengers no more than 10 days to pass the unadjusted total gross of any single Avengers-related film, showing that the total is more than just a sum of its parts. The Avengers didn’t just take the opening weekend record, it obliterated it. Ironically, it was once again a Harry Potter move that the record was taken away from. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 opened to $169.2 million last year, surpassing The Dark Knight’s record. The Avengers had good, but not overwhelming midnight numbers, earning $18.7 million there and coming in well below the Twilight sequels or The Hunger Games. It also lost the opening day battle to Harry Potter, delivering an $80.5 million Friday (vs. $91 million by Harry Potter). However, the Joss Whedon-directed film exploded over the rest of the weekend. It took in $69.7 million on Saturday, making it not just the biggest Saturday gross ever, but also completely destroying Spider-Man 3’s $51.3 million record that has stood for five years. What is even more impressive is that not counting the midnight numbers, The Avengers actually increased by 12.8% from Friday. That Saturday figure also made The Avengers the first movie ever to hit $150 million in two days. Its Sunday is estimated at $50.1 million, well above The Dark Knight’s phenomenal $43.6 million Sunday. The Avengers’ per-theatre-average is also unbelievable as it has finally topped the PTA record for a wide release set by the Hannah Montana: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour 3D movie ($45,561 from 683 locations). More impressively, it became the first movie that got a $40,000+ PTA from more than 1,000 theatres. For comparison - the PTA for last year’s Harry Potter was $38,672.
Asking what went right? Well, “everything” would be the right answer. Comic book adaptations have always enjoyed a huge popularity at the North American box-office. Keep in mind that of the six movies that have set opening weekend records in the US since 2002, four have been comic book adaptations. Moreover, The Avengers was preceded by five well-reviewed and more or less well-liked films, in particular the first Iron Man which broke out in 2008 and grossed over $315 million. Bringing all the heroes together into one film created an unprecedented event that became a must-see for moviegoing audiences. On top of that, The Avengers is just a great movie, plain and simple. It scored 93% fresh reviews at RottenTomatoes.com, similar to the first iron Man and higher than all other Avengers-related films. But it is not just critically acclaimed, the audiences love it too as evidenced by the “A+” CinemaScore it has received. Other movies that have earned this rarely awarded grade include box-office smash hits like The Help, The Blind Side, Up and Titanic. Moreover, The Avengers is playing as a four-quadrant movie, appealing to families and action-fans alike. The age split shows that as the 50% of the audience was young than 25. Another factor that most likely helped the film is that there hasn’t been a major movie for male audiences in a long time. Keep in mind that last weekend’s Top 5 movies all skewed more towards female audiences. In fact, there hasn’t been a big movie aimed at male moviegoers since Wrath of the Titans at the end of March and that disappointed too. With 60% of The Avengers’ audience being males, it is obvious that this demographic has been out in full force for the film. Another factor that shouldn’t be ignored are the 3D and IMAX screens. The Avengers has received the 7th-widest opening ever, but it has also played on more 3D screens than any movie before it with 3,364 theatres playing it in 3D. Add to that 275 IMAX venues and you’ve got yourself a sizable boost. According to the reports, The Avengers made 60% of its opening day gross in 3D venues, but 52% over the weekend which is up from Captain America’s 40% and Harry Potter’s 43%, but down from Thor’s 60%. It shows that the 3D share has stabilized by now and should be around 50-60% for most big films. IMAX has contributed a bit over $15 million (or around 8%) to the weekend’s gross. After Iron Man 2’s somewhat disappointing legs and mixed reception, box-office followers weren’t sure about The Avengers’ box-office prospects, some even fearing it’d gross less than the first Iron Man. What they did not take into account was that even though Iron Man 2 didn’t break records with its opening, it sill started with over $128 million and that without 3D. The inflation and the boost from 3D alone would have ensured a $140+ million opening. Great reception and a strong marketing campaign by Disney put the floor at $150 million. Still, a $200 million was number no one could fathom. Even adjusted for inflation, it probably edges out The Dark Knight for the biggest opening ever.
Of course with an opening weekend like this, a final number is hard to pinpoint, especially when dealing with a movie so well-received by audiences. An Iron Man 2-like opening-to-total multiplier would give The Avengers a final gross of $488 million. At this point, this number should be considered an absolute minimum, maybe The Avengers the first movie ever to be a lock for $450+ million after just three days on release. Given the much better reception for The Avengers and the simple fact that its huge opening weekend will generate even more buzz for the movie, essentially turning it into a must-see event to overshadow everything else over the upcoming weeks, $500 million seems to be nearly guaranteed. Rarely has a movie ever been this likely to enter the all-time Top 5 right after its release. It should go quite a bit further than that. Without any doubt, there will be some frontloading to it and unlike the first Spider-Man film, it almost certainly won’t be able to avoid a 50+% second weekend drop. It will also face stiff competition over the next weeks. Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows opens next weekend and given Burton’s and Depp’s strong fanbase, it will be a factor. An even bigger threat should be Universal’s Battleship that will also appeal to male demographics which made the Transformers films big. A weekend later Men in Black 3 will see Will Smith’s return to the big screen after four years of absence. Repeat viewings and great WoM will prevent it from crumbling fast, but it will lack strong summer weekdays during the initial part of its run and thus shouldn’t be able to reach the same kind of longevity as The Dark Knight did back in 2008. Then again, it won’t need it to pass The Dark Knight’s $533 million total. A multiplier of around 2.7 would get it there and that is hardly a stretch for a beloved event movie like The Avengers. I see The Avengers easily taking down The Dark Knight and finishing somewhere in the $550-590 million range. The Dark Knight Rises has a long way to go now to claim the domestic crown of 2012. Next weekend will be very telling for The Avengers’ future prospects. Even a 60% decline guarantees it the second weekend gross record. If it declines less than 55%, though, then $600 million is probably happening.
As mentioned above, The Avengers not just left everything else in the dust, but also led to horrible declines for everything else at the box-office. Think Like a Man settled for a very distant #2 spot with $8 million (down 54.6%) and $73 million after just 17 days. Even though it was crushed, Think Like a Man is still a formidable success given its $12 million budget. The urban-oriented movie also managed what most similar films don’t – it didn’t drop like a rock after its opening, probably due to having some crossover appeal and good word-of-mouth to boot. It shouldn’t have much competition next weekend and thanks to Mother’s Day it will rebound rather well until What To Expect When You’re Expecting will hit its female demographics the following weekend. Whereas $100 million seemed to be a potential finish last weekend, The Avengers’ onslaught annihilated this dream. Nonetheless, it should still play well throughout May and wind up with around $93 million when all is said and done. That’s a great number for this kind of a movie. Even more amazing is that Think Like a Man will actually easily come out on top among the movies released this April, topping early contenders like American Reunion, Titanic 3D or The Five-Year Engagement.
The Hunger Games surprised once again with the best hold this weekend. It declined just 47.3% and held on to the #3 spot of the box-office. A $5.7 million weekend pushed its total gross to $380.7 million after seven weeks, making it the 14th-biggest movie of all-time domestically and just around $300,000 away from passing last year’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. It also became the first movie since How to Train Your Dragon in 2010 to spend seven consecutive weeks in the Top 5 of the box-office. With only one new wide release next weekend, it should easily become the movie with the longest Top 5 streak since Avatar. What is more incredible is that it held up this well despite losing all IMAX screens to The Avengers and facing this four-quadrant behemoth. The Hunger Games is currently tracking almost exactly $10 million ahead of Deathly Hallows Part 2 at the moment, pretty much guaranteeing it a $390+ million finish. Word-of-mouth is still on this film’s side. While it is currently right on track to a $395 million finish, I can’t help, but believe that Lionsgate Films will do anything in their power to make sure $400 million happens for it which is why that is still my projection. However, The Hunger Games will not be the first movie of 2012 to pass the mark.
The Lucky One remained firm in the 4th slot of the weekend as one of the only two Top 10 movies with a drop better than 50%. A 49% loss in audience numbers led to a $5.5 million weekend and a decent $47.9 million total. Right now it is tracking on par with the Miley Cyrus-starring adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ The Last Song and with the help of Mother’s Day next weekend should be heading for a similar total too. It’s certainly not another Dear John ($81 million) or The Notebook ($80 million) and obviously pales in comparison to The Vow ($124.8 million) earlier this year, but a $60 million finish is respectable enough for this.
The Pirates! Band of Misfits fell three spots to #5, grossing $5.4 million (down 51.5%) over the weekend for a running 10-day total of $18.6 million. With The Avengers heavily appealing to families as well, such a drop is said, but expected. It’s unfortunate that an animated movie this well-reviewed and original has failed this badly at the domestic box-office, but it is just being steamrolled by The Avengers. With no other movies aimed directly at families in May, it might rebound a bit and play decently until Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted. However, it might just lose theatres and screens too quickly in order to ever stabilize. A $31 million final cume looks to be the target.
The Five-Year Engagement dropped a notch to #6 this weekend and made $5.1 million (down 51.9%) over the three-day period. The $19.2 million total is rather disappointing for this Jason Segel/Emily Blunt R-rated comedy, but mixed reception and muddled marketing are not helping it. It will end up with $31 million in the bank. It’s not a Wanderlust-like failure for Universal and with such hits as Safe House ($126 million)and Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax ($209 million) this year, they can certainly stomach it.
The Raven held on to the 7th spot of the box-office, but its $2.5 million sophomore frame was still down 65.6% from last. It has $12 million in the bank after ten days and probably doesn’t have much gas left in the tank. I see a $15 million finish here and it will soon be dropped by most theatres it is playing in.
I expect a similar fate for this weekend’s #8 movie, Safe, as well. The Jason Statham actioner suffered the most as its male demographics were taken by The Avengers. A 68.7% nosedive led to a $2.5 million weekend and $12.9 million in total. Battleship should finish it off in two weeks as I expect it to wind up with $16 million which is bad even by Statham’s standards.
Disney’s Chimpanzee didn’t get the Disney boost thanks to The Avengers this weekend (the boost clearly went to John Carter). Nevertheless, the Disneynature release added another $2.4 million (down 54.2%) to its total which now stands at $23 million. That makes Chimpanzee the 7th-biggest documentary ever at the North American box-office. It should enter the Top 5 next weekend and finish its ascent of the highest-grossing documentary list at #5. Its likely $28 million finish is terrific for a nature documentary and doesn’t put it far behind Earth’s $32 million.
The Three Stooges was #10 this weekend as it suffered a harsh blow, decreasing 65.2% to $1.8 million. Its running total stands at $39.6 million now. It should disappear quickly with around $42 million in the bag.
The Cabin in the Woods, starring The Avengers’ Chris Hemsworth and written by The Avengers’ director Joss Whedon suffered a terrible drop as well, dipping 66.4% to $1.6 million, bringing its running cume to $38 million. Overall, though, the movie defied its supposedly mediocre WoM and delivered a decent gross for an innovative horror flm that it is. I expect a $40 million finish and a very long life in the home video market.
At last, the Top 12 is rounded off by John Carter. Wait what? Indeed, John Carter miraculously increased by 1,073.8% this weekend to $1.3 million after adding just 169 theatres, giving it the third-highest PTA in the entire Top 12. I suppose being a Disney release like The Avengers might ave helped a little. Well, maybe more than a little. Its running cume stands at $70.6 million, so the $250 million production is still a disaster no matter what. It will top out with $72 million.
The only other notable film this weekend was The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The well-reviewed dramedy boasting an excellent British cast opened to $0.75 million from just 27 theatres for a great PTA of $27,778. It is a very promising start and giving that the film has enjoyed great legs everywhere it has been released thus far, we should be seeing more of this film which will keep expanding over the next weeks.