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No one was expecting this. The chances The Avengers had of breaking the opening weekend box office were slim. They were there, but few thought it was anywhere near reality. There’s a lot of egg on a lot of faces today. Not only did The Avengers beat Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2‘s opening weekend take of $169.1m, it left every film that has ever been released in its dust.

The first film to ever break $200m in its opening three days of US release – That’s to say nothing of the $441.5m it’s already made overseas – this is a milestone in Hollywood’s history that everyone thought would come one day. Not many thought it would happen in 2012.

It matches the feeling back in 2002 when Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man hit theaters, and, in three days time, it had broken the $100m barrier. No film had ever done that in one weekend before, and it paved the way for Summer blockbusters to follow. In the last 10 years, 19 films have topped $100m in a single weekend, and these films remain on the charts of the biggest earners in history.

Films before Spider-Man had tried to break that barrier, what more than a few analysts considered impossible at the time. With a $90.2m opening weekend, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone came the closest, but even that film would be a ways off from setting the high bar. It wasn’t that studios felt the $100m opening weekend was impossible. They kept trying with budgets on Summer blockbusters growing on a regular basis. By comparison the first Spider-Man cost $139m to make while the price tag on The Avengers was a whopping $220m. Budgets grew, opening weekends continued to grow with the final entry into the Harry Potter saga topping the whole chart just last July.

Now, less than a year after that record was broken, it’s broken again, but it’s more than just a record broken. What does it mean that The Avengers came out with a fury and broke the barrier no one was even looking to break? There’s no question how it happened. The film has been four years in the making, and that’s just from a fan’s perspective who went into Iron Man having no idea Samuel L. Jackson even made an appearance. The Avengers is the culmination of something huge for Marvel, Paramount, and Disney alike, the launching of a craft whose pieces have been getting put together all this time. It was a gamble on many, different companies’ parts, and this one, big dream is sure to change things.

In the last 10 years, budgets have grown, and you can be damned sure they’ll continue to grow. It wasn’t until 2004 with Spider-Man 2 that a studio budgeted a film for $200m. Since then, 21 films have gotten the greenlight with $200m or more behind them. If you think that’s going to change, you’re insane. The Avengers breaking $200m in a single weekend is just the beginning of bigger movies with larger marketing campaigns and wider releases.

This opens the world of Hollywood filmmaking to greenlighting a $300m budget or releasing a film on 5000 screens. These are things we’ve never seen before, but they’ll soon become more of a commonality in the industry. Hell, the first of these we see could very well be The Avengers 2, but the announcement from Marvel is still forthcoming. In just the next five years, we’re certain to have at least three more films opening to $200m or higher, and the cycle will continue to grow.

Will there be a breaking point to all of this? That might be something some studio execs are asking themselves this morning. You know, besides the ones who are still drinking in celebration. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for all of this to come to an unmanageable head. Ticket prices continue to grow, but movie lovers are still clearly getting themselves to the theaters, sometimes to see a film two or three times.

A $300m film will cost just as much to see as a $15m film. That’s not taking into account additional costs for 3D or IMAX, but those aren’t slowing moviegoers down one bit, either. It’s a monster industry with massive deals being made on a weekly basis, and it’s only going to continue to grow.

This is just a camping point along the way for James Cameron to release a $1bm movie, which will surely proceed to break every record in the book.

Here’s how the weekend broke down:

  1. The Avengers – $200.3m NEW
  2. Think Like a Man – $8m (-54.6%) $73m total
  3. The Hunger Games – $5.7m (-47.3%) $380.7m total
  4. The Lucky One – $5.5m (-49%) $47.9m total
  5. The Pirates! Band of Misfits – $5.4m (-51.5%) $18.5m total
  6. The Five-Year Engagement – $5.1m (-51.9%) $19.2m total
  7. The Raven – $2.5m (-65.6%) $12m total
  8. Safe – $2.4m (-68.7%) $12.8m total
  9. Chimpanzee – $2.3m (-54.2%) $23m total
  10. The Three Stooges – $1.8m (-65.2%) $39.6m total

Naturally, the weekend stands as the biggest in May history, and you can’t even begin to say it’s all downhill from here. It’s the way every studio in Hollywood wanted the Summer movie season to kick off, and every one of them are scattering to pump their own films up in The Avengers‘ wake.

Sure, The Avengers itself will have a healthy month. Great buzz surrounding the film will keep it from dropping much in subsequent weekends, and, while blockbuster films like Dark Shadows, The Dictator, Battleship, and Men in Black III will be posting their own, impressive debuts, every one of them will be looking to Marvel from here on out to show them how it’s done.

We’ll be back later in the week to see how the weekend is shaping up.


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