Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), left, Captain America (Chris Evans) and Black… (Zade Rosenthal, Marvel )
It was a weekend that made Hollywood stand back and marvel. "The Avengers," from Walt Disney's Marvel Studios, didn't just break the record for the best opening weekend in Hollywood history — the film smashed through it Hulk style, grabbing up big green fistfuls of money.
The Joss Whedon-directed movie, riding stellar reviews and a tsunami of Twitter love, piled up $200.3 million at theaters in the U.S. and Canada, according to an estimate from Disney. That total, which beat the $169.2-million record set during the opening weekend of 2011's "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2," was turbocharged by pricier IMAX and 3-D tickets. About 52% of those who saw the movie opted to shell out a few extra bucks to watch it in 3-D. IMAX theaters even ran out of seats to sell to moviegoers.
The North American box office total added to an already unfolding global success story; playing in 52 international markets, the movie collected $151.5 million this weekend, raising its tally abroad to $441.5 million. That means that after just two weeks in release, "The Avengers" already has sold $641.8-million worth of tickets, jumping past "The Hunger Games" on the ranking of top-grossing 2012 releases worldwide.
FOR THE RECORD:
Box office chart: In the May 7 Calendar section, the chart listing the 10 films that brought in the most money at box office in the U.S. and Canada over the weekend named Disney as the distributor of "The Hunger Games." Lionsgate is the distributor. —
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Headlined by a slew of A-list stars, including Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson, "The Avengers" has grossed more worldwide than any of Marvel's previous pictures, including "Iron Man 2," which sold $623.9-million worth of tickets in 2010. The movie, which brings together an international peacekeeping agency of superheroes to help protect the world from otherworldly invaders, also has earned the best reviews since 2008's "Iron Man," notching a 94% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
A number of critics have singled out Whedon's guiding vision as vital to the film's success. Yet with a handful of characters such as Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the Hulk all jockeying for screen time in "The Avengers," the filmmaker initially worried that the movie might collapse under the weight of so many super-personas. In fact, last year, on the New Mexico set of the film, no one was more acutely aware of that danger than the Hollywood writer known for pitch-perfect comedy and group dialogue.
"Coming in, I was worried about Robert Downey Jr.," Whedon said, as he watched the actor prepare for a fight scene decked out in his Iron Man armor. "There's that reputation, that he wants to rewrite everything. ... I've been the master of the universe on the sets I've walked on, but I'm not on this one."
"The Avengers" represents a career hallmark for Whedon, who co-wrote the screenplay with Zak Penn. Despite an ardent fan base and plenty of critical acclaim and industry respect, the creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" had yet to have a breakout hit film — though he did receive an Oscar nomination as a screenwriter on Pixar's "Toy Story."
Comic book fans had waited ages to see this grouping of characters on the screen, and Marvel had plotted to bring the heroes together over four separate movie franchises, dating to "Iron Man." That same year, "The Incredible Hulk" struggled to find equal success — that film's green monster, Edward Norton, has since been replaced by Mark Ruffalo — but last summer's "Thor" and "Captain America: The First Avenger" were bigger box office hits.
"You have to step back and appreciate how you get to a place like this — and a lot of the credit goes to the years of work that it took to create traction for these characters," said Dave Hollis, Disney's executive vice president of distribution. "Through each of the characters' films, a string of equity was built, and that ultimately paid off with this culmination."
Disney's decision to open the film overseas before it hit U.S. theaters helped to turn the movie's debut into a worldwide event. Indeed, many Hollywood studios are increasingly beginning to open movies abroad first to capitalize on international ticket sales, which often account for the majority of the overall gross on big-budget event films.
"We had 70% of the international business open a week ago, and coming out of that space with such strong grosses signaled that this was not just a fan movie — not just a guy movie — but a movie for everyone," said Hollis.