Is November the new May? Can a movie that opens between Halloween and Thanksgiving Day reach the blockbuster status of films that launch the traditional Hollywood summer in the first weeks of the fifth month? Marvel Studios hopes, thinks — and now may have proved — that the answer is Yes.
Thor: The Dark World, sequel to the Marvel hit about the Norse god and his nefarious semi-brother Loki, made its North American debut to a thunderous $86.1 million, according to preliminary studio reports. That figure — the fourth highest opening of the year, after Iron Man Three ($174.1 million), Man of Steel ($116.6 million) and Furious 6 ($97.4 million) — represents a 30% leap over the $65.7 million earned by the first Thor, which kicked off the summer season in early May 2011.
(READ: Corliss’s review of Thor: The Dark World)
[UPDATE: In final figures issued Monday, Thor: The Dark World actually earned $85.7 million. The next three films retained their Sunday positions: Bad Grandpa at No.2 ($11.3 million), Free Birds at No. 3 ($11.1 million) and Last Vegas at No. 4 ($11 million). Each of the top five movies finished within 1% of their early estimates.]
The Dark World also continues the storyline of the May 2012 smash The Avengers, which earned $1.5 billion worldwide to become the all-time highest-grossing movie not directed by James Cameron (Avatar, Titanic). There, all six Marvel superheroes ganged up to save the world from Loki. So The Dark World may also be considered a beneficiary of the Avengers bump — and of the Internet popularity of Tom Hiddleston, who plays Loki as a Hamlet-garbed heartthrob with the grudge of destroying the world to revenge himself against his adoptive dad and brother. For any further appearances in the Marvel canon, Hiddleston’s agent should be demanding Robert Downey Jr.-size paychecks.
(READ: William Lee Adams gets upclose with Tom Hiddleston)
Budgeted at $170 million, The Dark World has earned nearly twice that, $327 million, in just 12 days of worldwide release, including a $20-million weekend in China (outgrossing The Avengers there). Back home, the movie gleaned a rosy A-minus CinemaScore from an audience that skewed very male (62%) and older than expected (62% over the age of 25). More than four-fifths of North American theaters showed the movie in 3-D or IMAX, but only about half of the weekend gross came from the pricier venues, indicating that most viewers decided they could get the full Thor-on-Loki impact from the cheaper seats.
(READ: Lily Rothman’s “fact check” of Thor: The Dark World)
Skeptics noted that the new Marvel movie’s three-day tally was a bit less than the $88.4 million earned by the James Bond film Skyfall the same weekend last year. But that only underlines the appeal of an early November opening to the mass audience — and gives the increasingly busy Marvel another time of year to premiere its tentpole movies.
Only $200,000 separated the next three pictures on the top 10: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa at $11.3 million, Free Birds at $11.2 million and Last Vegas at $11.1 million. The two rambunctious old-dude comedies held strong (Bad Grandpa will soon hit $80 million domestic), and Free Birds, the animated feature about a revolutionary flock of turkeys, looks to keep corralling kids through Thanksgiving Day. Looking up at all these cluckers and alter kockers was Ender’s Game. The expensive science-fiction epic fell from first place to fifth in a week, and all dreams of a Twilight-ish franchise seem doomed.
(READ: Corliss’s review of Ender’s Game)
Among the artier fare, 12 Years a Slave expanded from 410 screens to 1,444 and earned $6.6 million, proving that this brutal document is not just a critics’ favorite. The sci-fi romantic comedy About Time, which jumped from 175 theaters to 1,200, amassed $5.2 million, with particular appeal to older women: 71% female, 56% over the age of 40. In very limited release, the Nazi-resistance coming-of-age drama The Book Thief took in $108,000 on four screens.
(READ: Corliss’s review of The Book Thief)
Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. Thor: The Dark World, $86.1 million, first week
2. Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, $11.3 million; $78.7 million, third week
3. Free Birds, $11.2 million; $30.2 million, second week
4. Last Vegas, $11.1 million; $33.5 million, second week
5. Ender’s Game, $10.25 million; $44 million, second week
6. Gravity, $8.4 million; $231.1 million, sixth week
7. 12 Years a Slave, $6.6 million; $17.3 million, fourth week
8. Captain Phillips, $5.8 million; $91 million, fifth week
9. About Time, $5.2 million; $6.7 million, second week
10. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, $2.8 million; $110 million, seventh week