The Avengers (Scarlett Johansson photo right) earned an estimated $18.7 million from about 2,500 Thursday midnight screenings in North America. Ignoring inflation and the box-office-boosting effect of 3D/IMAX surcharges – $1.3 million came from 273 IMAX screens – that places The Avengers at no. 8 on the list of biggest domestic midnight debuts.
For comparison's sake: without the assistance of 3D, Gary Ross / Jennifer Lawrence's The Hunger Games opened with $19.7 million at 2,565 locations (including 270 IMAX) in March, while Christopher Nolan / Christian Bale's The Dark Knight took in $18.5 million at 3,040 screenings (including 94 IMAX) in summer 2008.
In fact, in number of midnight ticket sales, The Dark Knight remains ahead of both The Avengers and The Hunger Games -- even without taking 3D/IMAX surcharges into account. After all, The Dark Knight's $18.5 million would translate into more than $20 million today.
The biggest midnight debut by far is that of David Yates / Daniel Radcliffe's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, which grossed $43.5 million in July 2011. The last Harry Potter was followed by the three Twilight sequels: Breaking Dawn Part 1 ($30.3 million), Eclipse ($30.1 million), and New Moon ($26.3 million), all of which star Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner.
Obviously, The Avengers' opening weekend will be huge. How huge is debatable. Box Office Mojo's Ray Subers is expecting $172.5 million, which would place The Avengers as the biggest domestic weekend ever, surpassing Deathly Hallows 2's $169.2 million. Well, that is, if you once again choose to ignore inflation and 3D/IMAX surcharges.
The Avengers passes $300 million at international box office
Internationally, The Avengers has already grossed an estimated $304 million. That's more than Captain America: The First Avenger ($192 million), Iron Man ($267 million), and Thor ($268m) earned during their entire runs overseas.
In addition to North America, where it'll be playing at 4,349 theaters, The Avengers is opening in Russia and China this week as well.
According to the Wall Street Journal, The Avengers' global success may mean a replacement for recently ousted Disney chairman Rich Ross (he officially "resigned"): Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige.
Directed by Joss Whedon, The Avengers features The Iceman's Chris Evans as Captain America, Sherlock Holmes' Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man, The Kids Are All Right's Mark Ruffalo as the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2's Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow, and Snow White and the Huntsman's Chris Hemsworth as Thor.
Also: The Bourne Legacy's Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, The Deep Blue Sea's Tom Hiddleston as Loki, The Storm Awaits' Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill, Django Unchained's Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Shakespeare in Love's Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, and Much Ado About Nothing's Clark Gregg as agent Phil Coulson.
And finally: Stellan Skarsgård, Powers Boothe, Alexis Denisof, veteran Jenny Agutter (Walkabout / Logan's Run), and Deep End director / Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water screenwriter Jerzy Skolimowski, in addition to the voices of Paul Bettany and Lou Ferrigno.
Scarlett Johansson / The Avengers photo: Zade Rosenthal / Walt Disney Studios.