Kicking off the summer box office in style, Disney and Marvel Studios' The Avengers is expected to gross $64 million to $67 million on Friday, surpassing all previous Marvel titles and among the top opening days ever.
It's still too early to project a weekend number, but the 3D tentpole should open between $150 million and $155 million, making it one of the top domestic debuts of all time.
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Friday's gross will include $18.7 million in Thursday midnight runs, a record for a superhero title and the eighth-best of all time.
In 2008, The Dark Knight grossed $18.5 million in midnight runs on its way to a weekend debut of $158.4 million -- the second-best domestic opening of all time behind Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, which earned $43.5 million in midnight runs last summer (the best ever) and $169.2 million for the weekend.
It remains to be seen whether Avengers can keep up with Dark Knight, however. That film -- which didn't have a boost from being released in 3D -- the earned $67.2 million on its first Friday.
The Harry Potter and Twilight franchises dominate the list of best midnight earnings, thanks to a young and rabid fan base. And earlier this year, The Hunger Games grossed $19.7 million in midnight runs on its way to a weekend debut of $152.3 million, the third-best ever.
Avengers should do big business in Imax locations, where it turned in $1.31 million in midnight earnings from 273 locations.
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The tentpole, which unites key Marvel superhero characters, is widely predicted to clear $150 million in its domestic debut; just how much more is up for debate. It is the first Marvel title marketed and distributed by Disney since it bought Marvel.
The Joss Whedon-directed 3D film already has earned $300 million overseas in slightly more than a week of play, topping the total lifetime grosses for Iron Man ($267 million), Thor ($268 million) and Captain America: The First Avenger ($192 million) -- whose characters also are in Avengers. It should eclipse Iron Man 2 ($311.5 million) by Saturday at the latest.
Avengers should finish the weekend with a whopping global haul of at least $550 million, considering it also is launching in Russia and China.