“Marvel’s The Avengers” will probably surpass the $152.5 million debut of “The Hunger Games,” giving the superhero film saga the biggest opening weekend for 2012.
Estimates for the Walt Disney Co. (DIS:US) picture, featuring Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk, range from $150 million to a weekend record of $170 million. “The Avengers” opens in U.S. theaters on May 4.
The tally for “The Hunger Games” set the mark to beat for summer films. Exceeding that sum would give Disney bragging rights that may not be challenged until “The Amazing Spider- Man” and “The Dark Knight Rises” open in July. Studios try to manage expectations for their top films to avoid post-weekend disappointments on newscasts and websites.
“It’s pretty much all about getting a great opening weekend story,” said Phil Contrino, editor of Boxoffice.com, an industry website. “That’s 100 percent understandable because they’re accountable to the stockholders, so they can’t go out there and be very bullish.”
Industry tracking puts the opening at $150 million-plus, the Hollywood Reporter said on May 1. Analysts are more bullish, with two including Contrino suggesting the movie may exceed the all-time weekend mark of $169.2 million set last year by the final “Harry Potter” film.
“The Avengers” is benefiting from the popularity of previous movies based on the characters, including Robert Downey Jr.’s two “Iron Man” movies. The film had already generated $218 million overseas as of yesterday, setting weekend records in 12 countries including Australia, Brazil and Mexico, according to researcher Box Office Mojo.
“They’ve been building this audience since the first ‘Iron Man,’” said Contrino, who pegs weekend sales at $170 million. “Then there’s ‘Iron Man 2,’ ‘Thor,’ ‘The Hulk.’ All of that built up goodwill.”
In “The Avengers,” Marvel’s superheroes unite to battle an army led by Loki, the evil god of Norse mythology. In addition to Downey, the cast includes Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner and Samuel L. Jackson.
Weekend sales of $163.9 million are forecast by the Hollywood Stock Exchange, a website that bases estimates on mock betting, while Matthew Harrigan, a Denver-based analyst for Wunderlich Securities, predicts $170 million.
Paul Roeder, a Disney spokesman, declined to comment on the forecasts. Shares of Disney, based in Burbank, California, gained 1.6 percent to $43.79 yesterday in New York. The stock has risen 17 percent this year, ranking seventh in the 16-stock Standard & Poor’s Media Index. (S5MEDA)
Enthusiasm for the film’s prospects is based in part on Facebook and Twitter activity. As of yesterday, “The Avengers” had 1.33 million “likes” on its official Facebook page and had generated 45,936 Twitter tweets. On the Monday before it hit theaters, “The Hunger Games’ had 2.99 million likes and had generated 34,476 tweets.
‘‘That says that the marketing plan is really working,’’ Contrino said. ‘‘People are aware of it.’’
‘‘The Hunger Games’’ had a similar buildup of expectations, with forecasts rising as its March 23 opening approached. The film, based on the Suzanne Collins novel about teens battling in a televised fight to the death, posted the third-best weekend debut and has taken in a total of $372.7 million in the U.S. and Canada, according to Box Office Mojo.
At Fandango.com, the ticket-sales website owned by Comcast Corp. (CMCSA:US), ‘‘The Avengers’’ accounted for about 91 percent of total purchases yesterday. At the same time in March, ‘‘The Hunger Games’’ generated 92 percent of sales, according to releases from the company.
‘‘The Avengers’’ is among an increasing number of movies that open first outside the U.S.
‘‘Battleship,’’ scheduled to open on May 18 in the U.S., has generated $170 million in foreign sales for Comcast’s Universal Pictures since April 11, according to Box Office Mojo.
Viacom Inc. (VIAB:US)’s Paramount Pictures, which previously held theatrical rights to Marvel films before Disney bought the company, took the same approach to ‘‘Thor” last year.
The film began playing on April 27 last year in foreign territories and opened in the U.S. and Canada on May 6.
Buzz from a film’s sales abroad can enhance its prospects in the U.S. and Canada, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box-office unit of Hollywood.com. He is estimating opening weekend sales of $150 million.
“It raises the excitement level because it’s being talked about all over the world,” Dergarabedian said. “That’s why I think we’ll see more of this international-first strategy on certain key movies.”
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