By Scott Bowles, USA TODAY
The Avengers are box-office superheroes.
The all-star team of super-marketed comic book heroes, including Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk and Captain America, rampaged to $200.3 million at the box office this weekend, the largest debut of all time.
The Avengers crushed former champ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, which opened to $169.2 million last year. The Avengers landed in a virtual tie with Hallows as the biggest IMAX film on record with about $15 million.
Tim Briody of Boxofficeprophets.com called the opening "astounding" and chalked it up to a "superhero combo platter."
The Avengers was a hit analysts and marketers saw coming months away, thanks in part to it being a cinematic rarity. Unless you're Alien, Predator or Godzilla, showdowns between Hollywood icons - particularly those still propelling their own franchises - are scarce.
But with a cadre of high-profile crime fighters under its mantle, Marvel Pictures had years to assemble its comic book legion - and promote it. In the 2008 hit Iron Man, eye-patched hero Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) makes a cameo at the end of the film, promising a gathering of justice-seekers.
"We had been building this for years," says Avengers executive producer Jon Favreau, who directed the first Iron Man. "It shows what people can expect from franchises if enough thought goes into it ahead of time. This was no mean feat."
In addition to a $100 million merchandising tie-in for everything from Avengers cologne to bologna, the film had an omnipresent ad blitz in which Disney touted the film as the greatest superhero story ever told.
It may be the most lucrative. Gitesh Pandya of Boxofficeguru.com says that, given the film's worldwide success (it already has made more than $300 million overseas), the movie "will likely surpass $1 billion (worldwide) by the end of its run."
Where The Avengers ultimately stop is anyone's guess, as word of mouth promises to be robust. The movie scored an A+ among moviegoers, according to pollsters CinemaScore.
Ray Subers of Boxofficemojo.com says the grade bodes well for repeat viewing. "It's unlikely that demand is even close to satisfied at this point," he says.
The film laid waste to all other movies this weekend.
The comedy Think Like a Man was second at the box office with $8 million, followed by The Hunger Games with $5.7 million. That film, once the titan of the cineplex, has made $380.7 million since its release March 23.
The romance The Lucky One took fourth place with $5.5 million, followed by the cartoon The Pirates! Band of Misfits with $5.4 million.