'Avengers' sets opening-weekend record: But is it the most impressive debut ever?

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Image Credit: Zade Rosenthal

At the box-office, more is always better, but I admit I was a little disappointed when analysts upgraded the record-breaking opening-weekend haul of The Avengers from $200.3 million to $207.4 million. Two hundred million dollars just sounded better, didn’t it? It had the ring of a record that could last forever — like Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 points scored in a single game.

So as it turns out, The Avengers shattered the previous record — held by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2 — by more than $38 million, an enormous sum. Even with the less rounded figure of $207.4, the magnitude of the action film’s domination had the seismic feel of an industry-changing event that forced everyone to stop and marvel.

But is The Avengers the most impressive record-breaking debut of all time? Yes, obviously, it broke the all-time opening weekend record, so by definition Joss Whedon’s Marvel mash-up is king of the mountain. But how does it compare to previous record-breakers, in terms of dominating its predecessor. For example, Deathly Hallows — Part II‘s opening weekend surpassed The Dark Knight by 6.8 percent. The Dark Knight, in turn, edged Spider-Man III by 4.8 percent. These records seemed like modest and inevitable progression, especially in light of higher ticket prices from 3-D and IMAX screens. But The Avengers‘ huge margin over the Deathly Hallows — Part II amounted to an impressive 22.6 percent increase. By that definition — percent increase over the previous record-holder — The Avengers is the seventh most impressive debut since 1975, the summer of Jaws. Compare that to the Return of the Jedi in 1983: it earned only $23.0 million in its opening frame, but that was nearly $8 million more — or 60.4 percent more — than the previous record-holder, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Here’s the complete Top 10 by this metric, according to figures compiled by BoxOfficeMojo.com.

1. Return of the Jedi (1983) 60.4%
2. Batman (1989) 37.4%
3. Jaws 2 (1978) 37.1%
4. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) 36.7%
5. Spider-Man (2002) 27.2%
6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) 25.2%
7. The Avengers (2012) 22.6%
8. Superman II (1981) 18.2%
9. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) 18.1%
10. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) 15.1%

Not surprisingly, all 10 films on the list are either sequels or action blockbusters clearly with franchise ambition. And this summer has a few more of those on the way. In fact, one couldn’t blame the industry for hoping that 2012 could be 1989 all over again. That year, the opening-weekend box-office record was broken three times in the span of a month — first Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, then Ghostbusters II, then Batman. Fast-forward to the present and The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises are now waiting in the wings — two franchises who’ve rewritten the record books in the past. After The Avengers shattered the $200 million barrier in just three days, who’s to say where the new ceiling is? Until their day comes, though, long live The Avengers, long live the new king… (and Return of the Jedi).

Read more:
Box office report: ‘The Avengers’ scores biggest opening weekend of all time with $200.3 mil
Box office update: ‘The Avengers’ posts second-best opening day ever with $80.5 mil


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