Disney’s Marvel superhero sequel “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” powered into the record books with $96.2 million in its first three days at the box office this weekend, the largest April opening ever.
It finished well ahead of the $86.1 million that “Fast Five” posted in 2011, and is easily the year’s top debut over the $69 million that “The Lego Movie” managed in February. It also beats the opening of the last Marvel superhero sequel from Disney, “Thor: The Dark World,” which rolled out with $85.7 million in November.
The big North American debut by “Captain America” is the latest example of the burgeoning box-office might of the Marvel empire, which was supercharged by “Marvel’s the Avengers,” the 2012 blockbuster that became the third-highest grossing movie of all time. It first gave a boost to “Iron Man 3,” which opened to $178 million last May and went on to take in $1.2 billion worldwide, and then last year’s “Thor: The Dark World,” which has brought in $645 million globally.
Now, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is on its way. It added $107.1 million from overseas this weekend — highlighted by a $32.9 million opening in China — and is now up to $303 million globally in just 10 days. Its $207 million international haul is already more than the first “Captain America” took in over the course of its entire foreign run.
“The ‘Avengers’ impact certainly helped, because when you touch as many moviegoers as that one did, it makes for a sticky factor and increases the relevance,” Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis told TheWrap. “With this movie picking up after the events of New York in “The Avengers,” it very much played like an extension of that film, as well as another ‘Captain America’ movie.”
The weekend pushed Disney over $1 billion at the worldwide box office for 2014. Its films have brought in $351 million domestically and $860 million internationally for a global haul of $1.21 billion.
Chris Evans returns as Captain America and allies himself with Scarlett Johansson‘s Black Widow and Anthony Mackie’s Falcon in the $170 million “Winter Soldier,” which also features Robert Redford as a shadowy bureaucrat. Joe and Anthony Russo direct, from a script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, while Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige again rides herd as a producer.
The Marvel sequel is riding a wave of positive notices for its ripped-from-the-headlines plot that finds the film’s hero unraveling a massive government conspiracy. The critics love it, giving it an 89 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes. Opening weekend audiences — which broke down 64 percent male and 57 percent over 25 years of age — were impressed too, giving it an “A” CinemaScore.
“The fact that it had this overlay with real-life events is great, but more significantly I think the filmmakers found a way to take a story and make it not just a superhero movie, not just a spy movie and not just action. It’s all of those things, and that really expands the entry points for moviegoers,” Hollis said.
It also got a major lift from premium pricing on 3D, which was in roughly 80 percent of its market-high 3,938 theaters, 341 IMAX theaters and 316 Premium Large Format sites. IMAX accounted for 10 percent of the grosses, PLF screens led by Cinemark brought in 7 percent and the combined total of the 3D screenings accounted for 40 percent of the overall haul. Nine of the top 10, and 13 of the top 15 runs were IMAX.
The massive debut for the “Captain America” sequel is serving as the de facto start of Hollywood’s summer blockbuster season. The studios are showing a new appetite for widening the boundaries of the traditional tentpole movie season, and it has paid off with recent hits such as February’s “The Lego Movie” and March’s “Divergent.”
“The fact that there’s less competition with other tentpole movies will have to help, and we think we’re in great shape for the next few weeks as spring break kicks in and the kids get out of school,” Hollis said.
“Winter Soldier” dominated. Last weekend’s No. 1 movie, Paramount’s Russell Crowe Biblical epic “Noah,” was a distant second with an estimated $17 million. That’s a roughly 60 percent drop from its debut weekend for Darren Aronofsky’s controversial take on the Old Testament tale, which is up to $72.3 million domestically after two weeks.
Lionsgate’s young adult sci-fi tale “Divergent” was third. The Shailene Woodley-Theo James adventure took in nearly $13 million in its third weekend and is now up to $114 million in North America.
Faith-based “God’s Not Dead” continues to show surprising staying power, after expanding by 587 theaters to 1,765 locations for its third week. The low-budget drama about a college student trying to convince his skeptical professor that there is a Deity will bring in $7.7 million for the three days — just an 11 percent drop from last week — to finish fourth and is now over $30 million domestically for Freestyle Releasing.
Fox Searchlight gave writer-director Wes Anderson’s R-rated ensemble comedy “The Grand Budapest Hotel” its widest run yet, adding 286 sites to bring the theater count to 1,263, and it brought in an estimated $6.3 million to finish fifth.
Disney’s “Muppets Most Wanted” took in $6.1 million over the three days to edge another family film, DreamWorks Animation’s “Mr. Peabody & Sherman,” for sixth. The Muppets sequel is now up to $42 million after three weeks, while “Mr. Peabody,” which brought in $5.3 million over the weekend, is up to $102.2 million for distributor Fox in its fifth week.
Liam Neeson’s “Non-Stop,” Disney’s “Need For Speed” and “Sabotage” rounded out the top ten. Things didn’t improve much for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s action movie “Sabotage,” which took in less than $2 million and has yet to clear $9 million after two weeks for Open Road Films.