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‘Avengers’ Record-Setting Thursday Opening Sets the Stage for a Massive Weekend at the Box Office

Faster than the Milano on its way to Xandar with Korath the Pursuer hot on its trail, “Avengers: Endgame” took in a domestic record of $60 million in Thursday night preview shows, setting up what’s likely to be an all-time high opening this weekend.

“Endgame” has already set a $107 million record for single-day ticket sales in China, where it opened Wednesday. Previews in the U.S. and Canada began last night at 6 p.m. The film spread to 4,662 theater screens Friday, another industry record.

Outside the U.S. and Canada, the film has grossed about $305 million in its first two days.

The picture, the latest installment from Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel studio, caps a 22-movie storyline that began with “Iron Man” in 2008. The Avengers superheroes, including Captain America, Hulk and Black Widow, are now battling the intergalactic villain Thanos, who was last seen wiping out half the living creatures in the universe.

Estimates for the weekend grosses in the U.S. and Canada run as high as $320 million, according to Box Office Pro and Box Office Mojo. Exhibitor Relations puts the three-day number at $295 million, while the Hollywood Stock Exchange predicts $292 million. Disney itself, which is usually cautious with forecasts, suggested an opening weekend in the $300 million range on Friday.

Anything above $258 million will set the record, one established just last year by Marvel’s earlier installment: “Avengers: Infinity War.”

Pop-Culture Moment

“‘Endgame’ is the culmination of an entire universe of films,” said Exhibitor Relations’ Jeff Bock. “The only thing shocking would be if ‘Endgame’ didn’t turn the record books into dust.”

“Endgame” has already achieved status as a pop-culture moment, with theaters running marathon screenings of the 21 previous movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Websites like IGN.com are even suggesting the best times to use the bathroom during the new film’s 3-hour-plus running time.

Critics have generally praised the picture, which earned a stellar 96 percent aggregate approval rating from reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes.

“A film that should feel overlong and overstuffed rings purposeful, weighted with existential truth even as it flashes before our eyes,” the Chicago Reader’s Leah Pickett wrote in her review.

Next comes speculation of what other records “Endgame” might break. With this kind of juice, there’s every reason to believe it will challenge the $2.07 billion worldwide gross of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” set in 2015. Only two other films in Hollywood history have taken in more: “Avatar” in 2009 and “Titanic,” released in 1997.

One thing is clear: The Marvel machine has been a huge moneymaker for Disney. Last year’s “Infinity War,” for example, earned an estimated $985 million in profit, including TV, toys and theater ticket sales, according to estimates from Kagan, S&P Global Intelligence.