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'Avengers: Endgame' shatters box-office records with a $1.2 billion global debut

Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) in "Avengers: Endgame." Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Marvel Studios/Film Frame

The Avengers assembled this weekend to defeat an opponent: the modern Hollywood record books.

Disney/Marvel's new superhero entry, "Avengers: Endgame" - the 22nd movie in the 11-year-old Marvel Cinematic Universe - benefited from a perfect confluence of factors to take the moviegoing world by storm and create a new set of benchmarks: It became the first film ever to top $1 billion in its opening, before adjusting for inflation.

Blowing past projections, "Endgame" grossed $350 million in North America and $1.2 billion worldwide, according to studio estimates Sunday.

A week ago, industry watchers were speculating whether the film could sniff a billion dollars; it surpassed expectations by more than 20%.

"Endgame" immediately becomes the biggest movie of the year, too, topping Disney's setup movie, "Captain Marvel," which has grossed $1.1 billion worldwide since its early March release. With the combined global take of $2.3 billion from those two movies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is nearly a $20 billion franchise - with "Spider-Man: Far From Home" still coming this summer.

"Endgame" is already a billion-dollar behemoth, largely because of an ideal culmination of long-cultivated worldwide interest, marketing might, positive critical reception (96 percent "fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes) and virtually no competition. Plus, financially hurting theater owners eagerly turned thousands of screens over to "Avengers" to boost their bottom line. (The film had the widest North American release to date, with 4,662 screens.)

The Marvel Studios universe, under President Kevin Feige, has fostered a decade of fan loyalty, and rumors of major-character deaths in "Endgame" - following Chris Evans' viral tweet last fall signaling that he might be wrapping his run as Captain America - heightened the intense anticipation for this capstone on the studio's first chapter.

"Kevin Feige and the Marvel Studios team have continued to challenge notions of what is possible at the movie theater - both in terms of storytelling and at the box office," Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn said Sunday in a statement. Disney helped pull out all the box-office stops for "Endgame," including extensive promotion, and some theaters stayed open around the clock for the opening weekend.

"Endgame" topped the record of its lead-in Avengers movie, "Infinity War," by $93 million - a difference larger than the total North American gross of all but eight other movies in 2019.

There's also a telling barometer of just how popular the Avengers are around the world. "Endgame" has grossed nearly as much money in China - $330.5 million since it opened there Wednesday - as it has in the North American market, according to Variety.

Worldwide, "Endgame" is already the sixth-biggest movie in the Marvel universe. It will set its longer-term sights on the "Avengers" film that preceded it - last year's "Infinity War," which grossed $2.05 billion worldwide (the first weekend total for "Endgame" is nearly double the worldwide debut of "Infinity War").

Both films were guided by sibling directors Joe and Anthony Russo, with stars Robert Downey Jr., Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle and Josh Brolin leading the expansive cast.

The three-hour "Endgame" also set records for biggest foreign debut ($859 million), the biggest "single day" opening ($156.7 million domestically, including Thursday previews) and the biggest Imax opening ($91.5 million). Trade papers report that it was also the largest preseller, according to the services Fandango and Atom Ticket.

"Endgame" helped the North American box office to a $397 million total weekend for all domestic releases - shattering the previous record of $314 million, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

A decade ago, some industry observers questioned the price tag when Disney bought Marvel for $4 billion; the opening gross of "Endgame" represents nearly one-third of that purchase price.

This article was written by Michael Cavna, a reporter for The Washington Post.

Writer/artist/visual storyteller Michael Cavna is creator of the Comic Riffs column and graphic-novel reviewer for The Washington Post's Book World.