The Avengers Storms the Billion Dollar Club — In Just 19 Days

Like a Hulk in a music shop, the all-star superhero movie keeps smashing records, and sends Johnny Depp's Dark Shadows to an early grace

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Zade Rosenthal / MVLFFLLC / Marvel

There are superhero movies, and then there are movies whose box-office reception is superheroic. Two weeks ago, Marvel’s The Avengers rampaged through the foreign markets, earning a sensational $178 million. Last week this ultimate action picture opened in North America, and in its first three days it registered a megalo-Marvelous $207.4 million — 23% higher than the take for the previous title holder, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.

You’d think that everyone who had a craving for The Avengers might have seen it already. Instead, fans are going back, bringing clueless friends and pushing the movie to new milestones. It became the first film to hit $100 million in its second weekend at domestic theaters — $103.2 million, according to the preliminary estimate of Disney, its ecstatic distributor — to dwarf the $75 million second-weekend hauls of The Dark Knight in 2008 and Avatar in 2009. The movie has pulled in $373.2 million in ten days in North America. By Tuesday it should pass the first blockbuster of 2012, The Hunger Games, which has taken seven-and-a-half weeks to reach its $386.9 million total. What an imposing number that seemed, not so very long ago. Like, late April.

(READ: Corliss’s review of The Avengers)

Further proving that Avengers fever is no respecter of national boundaries, Disney has announced that it expects the movie to break the $1 billion worldwide threshold by this evening, its 19th day of international release. The predicted figure, $1,002,100,000, would be the 11th highest global gross of all time. The Avengers is the first Marvel production, and the fifth Disney movie (after Alice in WonderlandToy Story 3 and the second and fourth installments of the Pirates of the Caribbean series) to hit the ten-figure cash box.

[UPDATE: According to the more accurate “final” figures issued Monday, The Avengers earned $103,052,274 at North American theater in its second weekend — only a smidge under the predicted domestic number — and a 19-day worldwide gross of $1,000,371,647, about $2 million below the Sunday estimate but still enough to warrant early entry into the billion-dollar club.]

On the modest assumption that it earns another $125 million in the next week or two, The Avengers will soon race past the next seven titles — the four Disney films, plus Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, the third Transformers movie and the climactic episode of The Lord of the Rings — for fourth place all-time worldwide. The No. 3 blockbuster, Deathly Hallows 2 at $1.3 billion, would then be within plausible reach. An iffier prospect: challenging the only films to have earned more than $2 billion worldwide, James Cameron’s Titanic and James Cameron’s Avatar. You may say good luck with that, but you underestimate The Avengers at your own risk.

(READ: Steven James Snyder on How Marvel Botched The Avengers)

In the movie, Iron Man and his gang take on the intergalactic horde of the medieval supervillain Loki. This weekend, The Avengers took down a 200-year-old vampire played by Johnny Depp. Dark Shadows, a parody-tribute to the 1960s Gothic soap opera, earned $28.8 million, on the low end of predictions. Costing a lavish $150 million or so, director Tim Burton’s fifth consecutive movie with Depp took in far less its first weekend than Alice or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory had, and its B-minus rating from the CinemaScore survey of early viewers hints at more turbid weather ahead. Its demographic — mostly women, and 55% over the age of 35 — mirrors the typical audience for a daytime drama. Perhaps Dark Shadows should be shown only at matinees.

(READ: Corliss’s review of Dark Shadows)

One movie the seniors love, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, broke into the top 10 with $2.6 million, despite playing on just 178 screens. (The Avengers is in 4,349 theaters.) This warm tale of retired English folks in India, which has already amassed more than $75 million abroad, will expand to more American venues over the next few weeks. Among indie debuts, Girl in Progress, starring Eva Mendes as a single mom coping with her bright daughter, opened on 322 screens to $1.35 million worth of business. The stats were more modest for Where Do We Go Now?, a kind of Lebanese Lysistrata that corralled just $16,776 at three venues, according to Peter Knegt of Indiewire. Knegt did not report the weekend totals for the Brit musical romance Tonight You’re Mine, which opened at two theaters.

[UPDATE: Box Office Mojo reports Tonight’s Friday-to-Sunday gross at a microscopic $2,144, or about six people at each showing of the movie. And that’s not even the record low for an indie debut this weekend. Sleepless Night, a French heist film of the Bad Lieutenant variety, took in $2,106 on a pair of screens. The difference in the earnings of the two movies was something like three tickets,]

Then again, if the figures are in the low thousands, not the billions, who’s counting?

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

1. The Avengers, $103.2 million; $373.2 million, second week

2. Dark Shadows, $28.8 million, first weekend

3. Think Like a Man, $6.3 million; $81.9 million, fourth week

4. The Hunger Games, $4.4 million; $386.9 million, eighth week

5. The Lucky One, $4 million; $53.7 million, fourth week

6. The Pirates! Band of Misfits, $3.2 million; $23.1 million, third week

7. The Five-Year Engagement, $3.1 million; $24.4 million, third week

8. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, $2.65 million; $3.7 million, second week

9. Chimpanzee, $1.6 million; $25.6 million, fourth week

10. Girl in Progress, $1.35 million, first weekend