Disney/Marvel tentpole expected to dominate U.S. box office

Whether Marvel’s league of superheroes can take down “Harry Potter” as the all-time biggest U.S. opening is really the only question left this weekend. Because this much is certain: “The Avengers,” with estimates soaring past $150 million, will keep the 2012 box office fighting for a new domestic record — with a vengeance.

Predictions for “Avengers” have ranged widely over the past few weeks, from $140 million to $170 million. Even by Thursday afternoon, bizzers couldn’t agree on where “Avengers” would land.

As one B.O. analyst said, “It’s hard to tell just how high films like these can go. The only surprise would be if it grosses lower than $140 million.”

Either way, a three-figure domestic opening will put “Avengers” in rare company — only 20 films have ever crossed the $100 million opening threshold domestically, including the all-time record holder “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” with $169.2 million. It’s possible for “Avengers” to rival “Harry Potter,” but it’ll depend on how much repeat biz the Disney tentpole sees on Saturday and Sunday, as well as just how far the film reaches beyond fanboys and families.

Even with more than 1,000 showtimes sold out in advanced ticket sales, “Avengers” still trails “Harry Potter” — even “The Hunger Games,” which opened to $152 million — according to Fandango. That’s still better than any other Marvel property, however.

Financially, Disney already is sitting pretty with “Avengers”: The film cost $220 million (not including marketing) and has grossed more than $280 million internationally through May 2 — better than “Captain America: The First Avenger” ($192 million), “Iron Man” ($267 million) and “Thor” ($268 million).

Disney launched the film a week before the U.S. in 39 international territories, with China and Russia set to go this weekend. Japan is dated for August.

Domestically, “Avengers” bows at 4,349 locations — the seventh-largest Stateside bow ever (“Twilight: Eclipse” still is No. 1 at 4,468). “Avengers” also has 3,364 3D locations, including 275 digital-only Imax runs.

Movietickets.com reported that more than 47% of its “Avengers” presales came from auds wanting to see the film in 3D. That certainly bodes well for the format, which has leveled out percentage-wise since the beginning of the year.

While “Avengers” provides hulk-sized competition with other titles, increased theater traffic and sold-out “Avengers” showtimes could still send biz to holdovers.

Sony-Screen Gems’ “Think Like a Man” stands at $64 million in Stateside grosses through Wednesday. Universal’s “The Five-Year Engagement,” meanwhile, has done OK in mid-week business, surpassing Sony-Aardman Animation’s “The Pirates! Band of Misfits.” Entering their second week, “Engagement” reached $13.4 million domestically; “Pirates,” $12.7 million.

At the specialty B.O., Fox Searchlight’s “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” bows at 27 domestic engagements. Pic already has cumed $70.4 million internationally, of which $30 million comes from 10 weeks in the U.K.

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