Chris Evans plays the title role in "Captain America: The First Avenger." (Marvel Studios )
"Captain America: The First Avenger" outmuscled its competition at the box office this weekend, including Harry Potter, and had the most forceful opening of any big-budget superhero movie released this summer.
The 3-D film, which stars Chris Evans as a puny military reject transformed into a superhero via a secret government program, grossed a solid $65.8 million in the U.S. and Canada, according to an estimate from distributor Paramount Pictures. That was over $10 million more than both "X-Men: First Class" and "Green Lantern" collected upon their debuts in June and just a tad above the $65.7-million opening weekend for "Thor" in May.
"Captain America" was also able to take down Warner Bros.' mighty box office wizard. After grossing close to half a billion dollars in its worldwide opening last weekend — more than any film in history — "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2" saw its ticket sales tumble substantially. During its second week in release, the eighth and final "Potter" movie made $48.1 million domestically, meaning receipts fell a sizable 72%. But the franchise finale is still making rapid strides toward the rare club of films that have taken in $1 billion at the global box office: It has already racked up $274.2 million in the U.S. and Canada and $560.4 million abroad.
The weekend's other new release, the R-rated comedy "Friends With Benefits," had a respectable $18.5-million opening for Sony's Screen Gems label. The film, made for about $35 million, stars Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis as friends who want to have a sexual but nonromantic relationship.
"Captain America," of course, cost far more to produce. It was made by Marvel Entertainment, owned by Walt Disney Pictures, for around $140 million but is being distributed by Paramount. That means Disney will receive the majority of the profits or incur any losses from the movie.
Marvel found success with "Thor," which was also based on one of the company's popular comic book heroes; the movie has grossed $445.8 million worldwide since its opening. In many regards, "Captain America" played a lot like "Thor," attracting more men than women, but there was one key difference: Audiences were more willing to pay higher ticket prices to see "Thor" in 3-D than they were for "Captain America."
About 40% of the first-weekend sales for "Captain America" came from 3-D ticket receipts, compared to 60% for "Thor." "Captain America" was not released in Imax theaters, which accounted for 10% of the 3-D sales for "Thor."
However, those behind "Captain America" are hoping it may have even better word of mouth than "Thor" because audiences who saw the film this week gave it an average grade of A-minus, according to market research firm CinemaScore. "Thor" got a B-plus CinemaScore and saw ticket sales drop only 47% in its second weekend in theaters.
But for "Captain America" to be profitable, it must do strong business overseas — a prospect that some in the industry have said may be a challenge for a film with such patriotic U.S. themes. The movie opened in only one foreign territory this weekend, Italy, where it took in $2.8 million — a sign that international audiences will embrace "Captain America," Paramount Vice Chairman Rob Moore believes.
"It's not the equivalent of opening in the [United Kingdom] or Australia — it's a good barometer of how other markets in Europe will play, and I think this is the first indication that we'll do very strong business overseas," he said.
As for "Friends With Benefits," it appealed largely to women, because 62% of the crowd was female. Those who saw the film liked it, giving it an average grade of B-plus.
While the movie is off to a good start at the box office, it had a slightly lower opening than "No Strings Attached," a movie released in January with an extremely similar premise. That film, in which Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher starred as buddies who sleep together and attempt to maintain their friendship, opened to $19.7 million. The film was also produced for a modest cost and went on to become a sleeper hit, grossing $147.8 million worldwide by the end of its run in theaters.
"'No Strings Attached' opened with just no competition. They really had that date all to themselves," Sony distribution President Rory Bruer said, noting that the Kutcher-Portman movie was the only new film in release on the weekend it opened. "So for us to be in such a competitive environment and open pretty close to their number says a lot about the film in regards to its mettle."
"Transformers: Dark of the Moon" has officially become Paramount's highest-grossing film ever overseas, this weekend passing the half-billion-dollar mark abroad. Overseas, the film collected $62 million from 60 foreign markets, bringing its international total to $556.6 million. The movie debuted this weekend in China, where it had the biggest opening ever for an American film with $40 million.