World domination -- it's what Marvel Comics villains dream of. But this weekend, "The Avengers" is going to make it a box office reality.
The superhero mash-up from Disney's Marvel Entertainment is on track to gross between $160 million and $165 million in its U.S. debut. That's on top of the $265 million it's already taken in from 39 countries overseas since last week, with another $150 million or more likely this weekend.
"This is the culmination of years of planning on the part of Marvel," Dave Hollis, Disney's executive vice-president of exhibition told TheWrap Wednesday. "It's very exciting to see it all come to a head this weekend."
Hollis wouldn't offer a figure for what he thinks "The Avengers" will do, but bullish analysts' projections range as high as $170 million. The would make it the biggest domestic box-office opening ever, ahead of the $169.1 million "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2" took in last year.
"The Avengers" could not only break the domestic record, it could even shatter it and approach the heretofore-unheard-of $200 million mark, Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations Co. told TheWrap Wednesday.
"It would take a perfect storm,' Bock said, "but all the elements are there." He pointed out that no other studio films are challenging it, it has an extremely well-known brand and the full might of Disney's marketing machine behind it. "There's no mystery here. Marvel's plan has worked," he said.
The strategy was launched in 2008, with the first "Iron Man" movie. In a post-credits appearance in that film, Samuel Jackson appeared as SHIELD leader Nick Fury and mentioned "The Avengers Initiative." Since then, Marvel has released another Iron Man movie and films based on Thor, the Hulk and Captain America -- all building to "The Avengers" release.
Robert Downey, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans,Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo and Jeremy Renner star in the ensemble film, written and directed by Joss Whedon.
"The Avengers" will open with a barrage of midnight Thursday screenings on many of the 4,340 locations at which it will play. Of those, 3,364 are 3D and 275 are Imax screens.
Hollis said the huge foreign grosses are helping build domestic buzz."The coverage we're seeing, the speed with which we've achieved these numbers, that al sends a signal that there is something special happening here," he said.
The huge tracking numbers suggest the film is critic-proof, but even they're on board.
As of Wednesday, 86 percent of "The Avengers" reviews were favorable, according to David A. Gross of the website Movie Review Intelligence. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 93.5 rating.
Gross believes that whether "The Avengers" will make box-office history or not will be determined by women. They were critical to the success of another recent blockbuster, "The Hunger Games," he pointed out.
"It's going to be huge," Gross said, "but it's still a comic book movie. You're going to get young men in droves and older men, but the key will be how many young women and especially how many older women go see it."
Others suggest the film's male skew could work in its favor.
"There really hasn't been a big movie for young males this year," said one executive from a rival studio. "'The Hunger Games' was for girls. This is a four-quadrant movie."
He was using an industry term for a film that draws from all demographics -- young and older men as well as young and older women.
But the exec, like just about everyone else, had no doubt about "The Avengers," and suggested it might even ease the pain of a recent Disney mega-flop.
"This is going to make 'John Carter' a distant memory."