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‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ Looks to Smash Box Office Records

Audiences are assembling in force to see “Avengers: Age of Ultron” this weekend, in what is shaping up to be a blockbuster debut with few equals.

AMC is reporting dozens of opening-night sellouts, MovieTickets.com is moving tickets at four times the rate of the first “Avengers” and Fandango says pre-sales for the latest chapter in the saga of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes matches those for all previous Marvel Studios films combined. Given that kind of fanboy fervor, it’s unsurprising that Disney, Marvel’s corporate parent and the film’s distributor, is pegging a debut north of $200 million. Outside tracking firms are even more bullish, projecting the picture will bow to $215 million or higher.

Barring a machine uprising, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” will be only the second film in history to top $200 million in its debut, but that’s not the only benchmark the super team is looking to surpass. From a bragging rights perspective, the goal here is for Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk and the rest of the costumed group to trump the first film’s $207.4 million debut. It looks likely that particular record will topple.

“When you get into this realm it’s hard to call,” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “People really like the first movie and the other Marvel movies have helped keep the franchise afloat.”

Just as “Iron Man 3,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Thor: The Dark World” both improved on previous installments by debuting after “The Avengers” took multiplexes by storm, those films have, in turn, helped intensify the excitement around “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

To help further stoke fan enthusiasm, major theater chains are hosting Marvel movie marathons and double bills with the first “Avengers” before the film opens domestically on Thursday. The film will roll out across 4,247 theaters — 2,761 of which will be 3D locations, 364 will be Imax screens, 400 will be premium large-format screens and 143 are D-Box locations. Oh, those mighty surcharges!

Filmed for $250 million, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” brings back cast members Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson, and introduces James Spader as the silky-voiced android villain Ultron. Joss Whedon, whose lively dialogue was widely praised on the first “Avengers,” once again wrote the screenplay and directs the sequel. Most critics enjoyed the film, with “Avengers: Age of Ultron” carrying a 74% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, though that does fall short of the first chapter’s 92% positive ranking.

Globally, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is already a juggernaut. Last weekend, the film racked up a massive $201 million from across 44 territories. It’s outpacing the first “Avengers” by more than 44%, despite the fact that weaker exchange rates in places like Russia and parts of Europe are depressing box office returns from a dollar perspective.

The new “Avengers” may surpass its predecessor in terms of worldwide ticket sales, but it could have a hard time outshining the $623.4 million it made Stateside. Chalk it up to weaker competition. The first “Avengers” squared off against box office duds like “Dark Shadows” and “Battleship,” but the sequel faces challengers like “Pitch Perfect 2” and “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

The Barden Bellas and a certain road warrior may prove even more dangerous than Ultron.

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