While it fell short of setting a new opening day record (that still belongs to Potter), The Avengers was responsible for new high marks in most other major categories. It was the fastest movie ever to reach $100 million, $150 million, and $200 million, and it set new records for Saturday ($69.6 million) and Sunday ($57.1 million) grosses. It also had the highest per-theater average ever for a nationwide release with $47,698.
The incredible opening weekend gross for The Avengers is mostly the result of a lengthy, extremely effective marketing effort which began all the way back in 2008 when Nick Fury made his first appearance after the credits in the original Iron Man. By the time Thor and Captain America opened last year, it became clear that these movies existed in equal parts to make money and to serve as advertisements for The Avengers.
Still, there was the problem of reaching people who hadn't turned out for Thor, Captain America and The Incredible Hulk. That was solved by Disney's massive campaign that made the movie seem accessible even for people who have never picked up a comic book in their life. The marketing conveyed that there was a major threat, and the only way to combat it was by bringing together the world's greatest superheroes. The "head count" ad was a centerpiece of this campaign: it introduced each of the Avengers with a quip from the most-popular Avenger, Tony Stark/Iron Man, and provided a few brief glimpses of the character in action. By the end of that commercial, even the most oblivious viewers probably had a good sense for who everyone was.
The movie went on to receive strong reviews (94 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), which made anticipation reach even higher levels. It also helped that April's releases were anemic, so The Avengers was able to play on more screens than it would have if another major movie was in the market (like when Thor had to face Fast Five last year).
The big question now is how high The Avengers can go—it will obviously hit $400 million, and with exceptional word-of-mouth (rare "A+" CinemaScore) the movie could even be in line for a $500 million total.
The audience was split evenly between those above and below 25 years-of-age, and it was 60 percent male. 3D screenings accounted for 52 percent of the opening weekend gross, which is an improvement from Captain America's 40 percent but below Thor's 60 percent. That 3D share breaks down to 40 percent traditional 3D, 8 percent IMAX, and 4 percent premium large format. The estimated $15.3 million the movie earned at 275 IMAX theaters set a new record for the format.
The Avengers accounted for 83.1 percent of the $249.7 million the Top 12 earned this weekend. That's the second-highest weekend market share ever, and the weekend itself ranks fifth all-time in revenue (first for a Summer kick-off).
The titles that made up that other 16.9 percent expectedly took a big hit this weekend. Think Like a Man fell 54 percent to $8.1 million, which brings its total to $73.1 million. It is easily the highest-grossing April 2012 release, and should wind up with at least $85 million.
The Hunger Games stayed in the Top 3 for the seventh-straight weekend, though it dropped 48 percent to $5.6 million. So far, the movie has made $380.6 million, which ranks 14th on the all-time domestic chart. In the next day or two, it will pass Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2's $381 million.
The Lucky One dipped 50 percent to $5.4 million, and has thus far earned $47.8 million. The Pirates! Band of Misfits added $5.5 million, which is off 51 percent from its opening. That's a terrible drop for an animated movie, and it probably has to do with losing family audiences and some 3D screens to The Avengers. The Pirates! has only made $18.7 million through its first 10 days.
The Five-Year Engagement also took a tumble—the Jason Segel-Emily Blunt romantic comedy fell 53 percent to $5.03 million, and has to-date earned a paltry $19.1 million. Even worse, though, were Safe and The Raven. Those movies dropped 66 percent and 64 percent to $2.68 million and $2.64 million, respectively. Safe has now grossed $13.1 million, while The Raven's total sits at $12.2 million.
While The Avengers was the only new nationwide release this weekend, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel provided great counterprogramming and played well in limited release. The movie ranked 16th for the weekend with $737,051 from just 27 locations, which translates to a strong $27,298 per-theater average. This kind of pleasant, well-reviewed adult comedy is right in distributor Fox Searchlight's wheelhouse, and it should be able to successfully expand over the next few weeks.