An Early Summer Heat Wave: The Avengers Sizzles Abroad

While the U.S. box-office winner was Think Like a Man, the new superhero movie, opening exclusively overseas, blew away the competition

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Zade Rosenthal / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Everett

The Avengers, from left: Jeremy Renner, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, 2012.

The duty of this column is to announce and analyze the weekend returns at the North American box office. So here goes: Think Like a Man, the low-budget Afro-centric romantic comedy that was No. 1 last week, turned the same trick again with a winning $18 million, according to preliminary estimates. On an end-of-April weekend that usually sees studios holding a yard sale for their least loved trinkets, four low-budget films made modest to poor showings. Thank you and good night.

But wait! If it’s spring twilight in America, it’s a fiery summer dawn abroad. Like El Niño gathering force in distant climes before whacking the U.S., the first summer blockbuster is already a monster hit in the rest of the world. Marvel’s The Avengers, the long-planned union of the superheroes dreamed up a half-century ago by comic-book genius Stan Lee, doesn’t open in the States until May 4. But in 39 international markets it amassed a marvelicious $178.4 million — nearly ten times Think Like a Man’s take.

(MORE: Read Corliss’s review of The Avengers)

The all-Stark roundup of Iron Man and his fellow saviors Captain America, Thor and The Hulk smashed first-weekend records throughout Latin America (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru), East Asia (Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia) and the remotest islands (New Zealand, the Philippines) and was the top attraction everywhere else it premiered. Considering that the film hasn’t yet opened in China or Russia, let alone North America, The Avengers is a fair bet to be the fastest sprinter to a billion-dollar gross.

China, you say? Does the People’s Republic even have movie theaters? Yes, indeed, and a potential audience big enough to dwarf North American totals for certain movies. The 3-D rerelease of Titanic, for instance, has earned $56.3 million in four weeks at home, but $260.6 million in the rest of the world — nearly half of that, $126 million, in China. If the Chinese latch on to Marvel superheroes the way they have to Jack, Rose and the sinking ship, North America could soon become an ancillary market, and we’ll be filing these reports in Mandarin.

(MORE: Read Corliss’s review of the Titanic rerelease)

By comparison, this weekend’s new domestic films performed like indie specialty releases. The Pirates! Band of Misfits, the 3-D lark from the Aardman artists of stop-motion animation, finished second with $11.4 million, to buttress the $63.7 million it has earned abroad. Jason Segal’s The Five Year Engagement, expected to finish atop the leader board, disappointed with $11.2 million. The Jason Statham action film Safe limped into sixth place with $7.7 million, and The Raven, in which John Cusack impersonates Edgar Allan Poe on the trail of a serial killer, croaked a nevermore $7.25 million. The four films’ CinemaScores were all mediocre: B-plus for Safe, B’s for The Pirates! and The Raven and B-minus for The Five Year Engagement.

[MONDAY UPDATE: In final figures released today, Think Like as Man finished the weekend at $17.6 million — a bit below the Sunday estimate, and less than a tenth what The Avengers earned abroad — while The Pirates! Band of Misfits earned $11.1 million. The Hunger Games moved up to third place with $10.814 million, just $6,000 ahead of The Lucky One’s $10.808 million. In short, a quiet weekend, as moviegoers saved their cash for the Marvel menagerie.]

In actual Indieland, Bernie, which reteams Jack Black with his School of Rock director Richard Linklater for a true-life killer comedy, opened to a crimson $90,400 at just three theaters. Sound of My Voice, a semi semi-sci-fi drama written by and starring Brit Marling (from last year’s indie winner Another Earth), earned a more modest $40,100 on five screens. Multiple that number by 4,000 and you’ll have a notion of the $160 million or so The Avengers is expected to earn next weekend.

The only question for box-office bettors: When the Marvel movie opens here on Friday, will it beat the $169.2 million earned by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 finale last July to register the top domestic opening of all time? If so, Lee’s band of misfit heroes may cue the beginning of the blockbuster season and amass a bag of swag that the other summer movies will have trouble topping.

Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:

1. Think Like a Man, $18 million; $60.9 million, second week

2. The Pirates! Band of Misfits, $11.4 million, first weekend

3. The Lucky One, $11.3 million; $39.9 million, second week

4. The Hunger Games, $11.25 million;  $372.5 million, sixth week

5. The Five Year Engagement, $11.2 million, first weekend

6. Safe, $7.7 million, first weekend

7. The Raven, $7.25 million, first weekend

8. Chimpanzee, $5.5 million; $19.2 million, second week

9. The Three Stooges, $5.4 million; $37.1 million, third week

10. The Cabin in the Woods, $4.5 million; $34.7 million, third week

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