(Bloomberg) -- Put enough of everyone’s favorite superheroes into one movie and you’re pretty certain to fill theaters.
“Avengers: Infinity War,” from Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios, looks set to do just that this weekend -- and challenge box-office records that are already firmly held by the Burbank, California-based entertainment giant.
Featuring Iron Man, Thor, the Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Black Widow, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Black Panther, Groot and others, the two-and-a-half-hour film is expected to open with weekend sales of $230 million or more in North America, according to box office analysts. That’s enough to make it the second-biggest domestic debut of all time, behind Disney’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which pulled in $248 million in 2015.
“The film has consistently been tracking for a massive debut,” Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice Media, said Thursday. “Infinity War” serves “as a semi-finale” to the first 10 years of Marvel titles, “uniting every significant character that has been introduced (and is still alive) over the course of the previous 18 films,” he said.
Disney originally planned to release “Infinity War” on May 4. Moving up the date put some distance between the picture, another Marvel film called “Deadpool 2” set for May 18 and a “Star Wars” movie due May 25. It also allowed the studio to begin showing “Infinity War” in almost all international markets at the same time and challenge the record worldwide opening of “The Fate of the Furious,” which debuted with $542 million for Universal Pictures in 2017.
Disney, which has built the most successful movie business ever around its Marvel, Star Wars and Pixar film series, is being slightly more conservative in its forecasts, projecting $225 million in domestic ticket revenue this weekend. The studio said “Infinity War” opened with $39 million in sales in 21 big international markets Wednesday, with records in several.
“Infinity War” cost $300 million to make, according to Bloomberg Intelligence, and many tens of millions more to market.
The movie is the third picture in the “Avengers” series Disney launched in 2012 and the 19th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that stretches back to “Iron Man” in 2008. They have generated almost $15 billion in worldwide ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo.
Reviews for “Infinity War” have been almost universally favorable, though several note the story is tough to follow if you haven’t seen the pictures that came before it. Still, 87 percent of critics give the movie positive notices, according to RottenTomatoes.com.
In this installment, the superheroes mount an all-out effort to defeat Thanos, played by Josh Brolin, who is seeking to collect six Infinity Stones. The fate of Earth, and existence itself, hang in the balance.
Not to mention movie theater owners. The summer season can’t come fast enough for exhibitors. Domestic sales this year have been lackluster, down 2.3 percent as of last weekend, after a similar decline for all of 2017. Attendance slumped to a 25-year low last year, with annual ticket revenue of $11.1 billion buoyed by rising ticket prices.
Starting with “Infinity War,” short-term relief is on the way. On May 18, 21st Century Fox Inc. will release “Deadpool 2,” the sequel to a surprise 2016 hit carved out of its Marvel X-Men series. The first “Deadpool” opened with domestic sales of $132 million and went on to deliver $363 million in North America.
On May 25, Disney releases “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” a standalone picture from its Lucasfilm unit. The last such film, “Rogue One,” produced $532 million in domestic sales for exhibitors and Disney in 2016.
The two pictures are certain to pad Disney’s already big lead at the box office this year. Thanks to “Black Panther,” a February Marvel release establishing that superhero as a worthy lead character for future movies, the company’s film division had tallied $911.8 million in domestic ticket sales through April 22, almost double the total of No. 2 Fox.
“Infinity War” should add about $600 million to that total during its domestic run, according to Box Office Pro, while “Solo” is expected to generate $390 million in U.S. theaters.
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