Biggest debut ever: 'Avengers: Endgame' shatters records with $350M haul, $1.2B globally
NEW YORK – The universe belongs to Marvel.
"Avengers: Endgame" shattered the record for biggest opening weekend with an estimated $350 million in ticket sales domestically and $1.2 billion globally, reaching a new pinnacle in the blockbuster era that the comic-book studio has come to dominate.
The "Avengers" finale far exceeded even its own gargantuan expectations, according to studio estimates Sunday. The movie had been forecast to open with $260 million to $300 million in U.S. and Canadian theaters, but moviegoers turned out in such droves that "Endgame" blew past the record $257.7 million set last year by "Avengers: Infinity War" when it narrowly surpassed "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" ($248 million).
"Endgame" was just as enormous overseas. Worldwide, it obliterated the record $640.5 million also set by "Infinity War." ("Infinity War" didn't open in China, the world's second-largest movie market, until two weeks after its debut.)
Joe and Anthony Russo's film ties together the "Avengers" storyline as well as the previous 21 releases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, begun with 2008's "Iron Man."
In one fell swoop, "Endgame" has already made more than movies like "Skyfall," ''Aquaman" and "The Dark Knight Rises" grossed in their entire runs, not accounting for inflation.
In a statement, Disney chairman Alan Horn credited Marvel Studios and its president, Kevin Feige, for challenging "notions of what is possible at the movie theater."
"This weekend's monumental success is a testament to the world they've envisioned, the talent involved, and their collective passion, matched by the irrepressible enthusiasm of fans around the world," his statement read.
To accommodate demand, Disney released "Endgame" in more theaters (4,662 in the U.S. and Canada) than any opening before. Advance ticketing services set new records. Early ticket buyers crashed AMC's website. And starting Thursday, some theaters even stayed open 72 hours straight.
"We've got some really tired staff," says John Fithian, president and chief executive of the National Association of Theater Owners. "I talked to an exhibitor in Kansas who said, 'I've never sold out a 7 a.m. show on Saturday morning before,' and they were doing it all across their circuit."
Not working in the film's favor was its lengthy three-hour running time. But theaters added thousands of showings for "Endgame" to get it on more screens than any movie before to satiate the frenzy.
For an industry dogged by uncertainty over the growing role of streaming, the weekend was a mammoth display of the movie theater's lucrative potency. Fithian calls it possibly "the most significant moment in the modern history of the movie business."
"We're looking at more than 30 million American and more than 100 million global guests that experienced 'Endgame' on the big screen in one weekend," Fithian says. "The numbers are just staggering."
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Further boosting the results were good reviews: "Endgame" has 96% "fresh" reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, second only to "Black Panther" among Marvel movies. Audiences gave the film an A-plus on CinemaScore.
Single-handedly, "Endgame" led the overall weekend at the domestic box office to a record $400 million in ticket sales, according to Comscore. "Endgame" accounted for a staggering 88% of those tickets.
If there was any shadow to the weekend for the theatrical business, it was in just how reliant theaters have grown on one studio: Disney.
Disney now holds all but one of the top 12 box-office openings of all time. (Universal's "Jurassic World" is the lone exception.) The studio is poised for a record-breaking year, with releases including "Aladdin," ''Toy Story 4," ''The Lion King," ''Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" and "Frozen 2" on the horizon.
After its acquisition of 20th Century Fox, Disney is expected to account for at least 40% of domestic box-office revenue in 2019, a new record of market share.
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But theater owners regularly speak of a "halo effect" around a movie like "Endgame." Such sensations draw in new moviegoers and expose millions to a barrage of movie trailers.
"This has got to be the biggest weekend in popcorn history," says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Comscore. "Think of the gallons of soda and the hot dogs sold. This is going to continue all week and beyond. This is going to have long-term playability."
The company's "Captain Marvel" – positioned as a kind of Marvel lead-in to "Endgame" – rose to No. 2 in its eighth weekend in theaters.
No other new wide release dared to open against "Endgame." "The Curse of La Llorona," last week's top movie, slid to third with $7.5 million.
Rounding out the rest of the top five: Faith-based film "Breakthrough" finished fourth with $6.3 million, and DC Comics' " Shazam!" fell to fifth with $5.5 million in its fourth week. Final numbers are expected Monday.
The guessing game will now shift to just how much higher "Endgame" can go. Given its start, it's likely to rival the top three worldwide grossers: "The Force Awakens" ($2.068 billion in 2015), "Titanic" ($2.187 billion in 1997) and "Avatar" ($2.788 in 2009).
Contributing: Kim Willis