With its god of thunder "Thor" lighting up the box office this weekend, Marvel has struck again at the multiplex.
The 3-D sequel "Thor: The Dark World" debuted with a healthy $86 million, according to an estimate from Marvel distributor Walt Disney Studios. That's the fourth-highest opening of the year, but well behind another Marvel property, "Iron Man 3," whose $174-million debut is still the biggest of 2013.
Heading into the weekend, prerelease audience surveys suggested the comic book adaptation would debut with a minimum of $90 million -- and given strong early interest, even a $100-million launch didn't appear impossible. Of course, $86 million is still a great start -- significantly more than the $65.7 million the original "Thor" launched with in 2011. And although "The Dark World" cost Marvel Entertainment $170 million to produce, the film is likely going to do so well overseas that the studio will end up in good shape.
And yet a film from the Marvel universe is held to exceptionally high standards. The first "Thor," which in the end collected $181 million domestically and $268 million abroad, wasn't viewed as a massive hit -- but it was the first film in a franchise, so it was given the benefit of the doubt. Now that the sequel has launched, it seems clear that the "Thor" movies are not destined to perform at the rate that the "Iron Man" films do.
This summer, audiences went crazy for Robert Downey Jr. in "Iron Man 3" as the film raked in an insane $1.2 billion worldwide. The movie no doubt benefited from the success of "The Avengers," which in summer 2012 became the top-grossing film of the year with $1.5 billion in global sales. "The Avengers" features both Iron Man and Thor, along with other Marvel superheroes such as the Hulk and Captain America. (An "Avengers" sequel is planned for release in 2015.)
Because the latest "Thor" release is hitting theaters in the wake of "The Avengers" and May's "Iron Man 3," some expected "The Dark World" to see an even larger bump at the box office. But holding "Thor" up against Marvel's other brands isn't fair, says Dave Hollis, Disney's executive vice president of distribution.
"The Dark World" stars 30-year-old Chris Hemsworth as Thor, the god of thunder who teams up with his deceitful brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to defeat an evil foe. Although the movie earned somewhat less favorable reviews than the original "Thor" -- 66% vs. 77% "fresh" ratings on Rotten Tomatoes -- audiences responded better to the sequel. Those who saw the new movie this weekend assigned it an average grade of A-, according to market research firm CinemaScore; the original "Thor" earned a B+.
Heading into the weekend, “The Dark World” had already grossed well over $100 million abroad. Playing in 66 foreign markets this weekend, the film raked in an additional $94 million, bringing its international total to $240.9 million. The first “Thor” made $268 million overseas all told, so the sequel is on pace to far exceed that tally.