Forecast: 'Captain America' Takes Aim at April Record This Weekend
Thursday Update: Captain America: The Winter Soldier got off to a strong start on Thursday night. The movie earned $10.2 million, which is a noticeable improvement over Thor: The Dark World's $7.1 million.

In comparison, Iron Man 3 took in $15.6 million, while The Avengers banked $18.7 million. For all three of these titles, Thursday shows accounted for eight to nine percent of the weekend gross; if Captain America follows this pattern, it will wind up between $110 million and $120 million for the three-day frame.

Forecast: Riding a wave of goodwill from The Avengers, Marvel's Captain America: The Winter Soldier is poised for the biggest opening yet in 2014.

At 3,938 locations, the ninth movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe will likely top Fast Five's $86.2 million April record, and could even make a run at $100 million. That would put the Captain on the superhero A-list alongside Batman, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Superman and the X-Men.

Similar to Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 3, Captain America: The Winter Soldier serves as a sequel to its direct predecessor (2011's Captain America: The First Avenger) as well as 2012's The Avengers. As the third highest-grossing movie ever, The Avengers gave this set of superheros unprecedented exposure, and created new fans in the process.

The performance of the first two follow-ups indicates that the "Avengers bump" is a real thing: Iron Man 3 opened 36 percent higher than its predecessor, while Thor: The Dark World was up 30 percent. If Captain America performs on par with Thor 2, it will earn around $85 million this weekend. There are a few reasons to believe that it can do better than that, though.

More so than Iron Man 3 or Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier feels like a direct continuation of the events of The Avengers: the movie stars three Avengers characters (Captain America, Black Widow and Nick Fury) and features S.H.I.E.L.D. and a few Helicarriers. Along the same lines, the movie's modern D.C. setting helps The Winter Soldier differentiate itself from The First Avenger, which was set almost entirely during World War II. That tends to be a good sign: if a sequel looks like its treading similar ground, it's less likely to be a must-see. The movie also moves the story forward by introducing an iconic villain (The Winter Soldier) and a fun new hero (The Falcon).

Disney's marketing has managed to convey all of these points while also promoting the gritty action and patriotic flair ("In Heroes We Trust"). So far, it seems to be paying off: on Fandango, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is currently outselling Thor: The Dark World.

As a bonus, Captain America is receiving strong reviews. As of Thursday afternoon, it's at 89 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, which makes this one of the best-reviewed Marvel movies yet (behind Iron Man and The Avengers). While reviews don't make or break a big movie like this, they can certainly help push it to the next level (in comparison, Thor 2 received a so-so response from critics).

With a strong marketing effort, positive reviews, and virtually no competition, Captain America: The Winter Soldier will likely open to at least $90 million at the domestic box office.

The movie got an early start overseas last weekend, earning $75.2 million from 32 territories. Across its Top 10 markets, Captain America opened 17 percent lower than Thor: The Dark World, which suggests it may be tough to match that movie's $438 million total. This weekend, Captain America expands in to Russia, Australia and China.

Among limited releases, Frankie & Alice opens at 171 locations this weekend. Back in 2010, Halle Berry was nominated for her role here; for whatever reason, distributor Freestyle Releasing couldn't get the movie in to theaters at the time, and the rights eventually wound up with Codeblack Entertainment (a division of Lionsgate). Berry has done a bit of press for the movie lately, though it would still be surprising if this opened above $500,000 this weekend.

Meanwhile, CBS Films releases found footage horror movie Afflicted in to 41 theaters. While the movie is well-reviewed, it's getting the day-and-date VOD treatment, which typically translates to below-average box office returns.

Forecast (April 4-6):

1. Captain America - $98.6 million

2. Noah - $18.9 million (-57%)

3. Divergent - $11.3 million (-56%)

4. Grand Budapest - $7.1 million (-17%)

5. God's Not Dead - $7 million (-20%)

6. Muppets - $6.9 million (-39%)

Bar for Success

The first Captain America opened on par with the first Thor. With better reviews than Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier's debut ought to be at least equal to that movie's $85.7 million.

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