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Box Office: THE AVENGERS / THE DARK KNIGHT Tossup?

Joss Whedon The Avengers Chris Hemsworth Thor
The Avengers director Joss Whedon, Chris Hemsworth Thor

The Avengers has broken all opening-weekend box office records in history. Well, maybe not all. But hyperbole aside, The Avengers has broken the official opening-weekend box office record in North America. Apparently, by a wide margin.

According to studio estimates, the Marvel superhero special-effects-laden ensemble will have taken in an estimated $200.3 million before the day is over. Following John Carter, Mars Needs Moms, Cars 2, The Muppets, TRON: Legacy, Secretariat, and other domestic underperformers in the last couple of years, Disney executives must be, to put it mildly, ecstatic.

The previous opening-weekend box office record holder, David Yates / Daniel Radcliffe's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, earned $169.2 million last summer. Both The Avengers and Deathly Hallows 2 have the advantage of box-office-boosting 3D surcharges: 52 percent of The Avengers' gross came from 3D screenings. That surely helped the Joss Whedon-directed actioner to become (as per Box Office Mojo, and not adjusted for inflation) the fastest movie to reach $100m, $150m, and $200 million. That is, of course, if studio estimates are correct. We'll find out for sure on Monday.

The Avengers / The Dark Knight box office tossup?

In terms of box office gross, The Avengers has far surpassed the opening-weekend earnings of Christopher Nolan / Christian Bale's The Dark Knight even when taking inflation into account: The Dark Knight would have earned $172-175 million in 2012 dollars, depending on average domestic ticket prices for this second quarter.

However, things get trickier if we try to figure out which movie sold more tickets – the true measure of a film's success – on its first three days out. If 3D surcharges are taken into account (and are thus deducted from the total, say, about 30 percent), The Avengers' box office gross goes down to approximately $175 million. When one considers IMAX surcharges as well – The Dark Knight was screened at 94 IMAX theaters vs. The Avengers' 275, which earned $15 million – Nolan's movie quite possibly sold more tickets. Perhaps even Sam Raimi / Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man 3 would be ahead of The Avengers, as its adjusted box office gross would land it at $171-$174 million.

All three movies are so close that it's impossible to tell without an actual ticket count whether or not The Avengers is truly the no. 1 opening-weekend movie of all time. The Dark Knight may very well have retained its position at the top. But Hollywood studios refuse to come up with (or to divulge) official figures for ticket sales. Really, how else could studios herald a new record-breaking release every year or so? [See updated article on The Avengers' weekend box office, which far surpassed Sunday estimates.]

Also on the inflation adjusted (but not taking IMAX/3D into account) top-ten opening-weekend box office list are Johnny Depp / Orlando Bloom's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (approx. $164 million), the original Spider-Man ($157 million), Jennifer Lawrence / Liam Hemsworth / Josh Hutcherson's The Hunger Games ($152.5 million), and Kristen Stewart / Robert Pattinson / Taylor Lautner's The Twilight Saga: New Moon ($151 million) and Breaking Dawn Part 1 ($138 million).

Officially budgeted at $220 million (not including another $100m+ in marketing / distribution expenses), The Avengers features Captain America: The First Avenger'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, Pulp Fiction'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, Jenny Agutter, 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.

While working on the (eventually) Academy Award-nominated Knife in the Water in Poland in the early '60s, could Jerzy Skolimowski have guessed that half a century later he would be featured in one of the biggest worldwide box office hits ever? Start believing in miracles right now.

Joss Whedon / Chris Hemsworth / The Avengers photo: Zade Rosenthal / Walt Disney Studios.

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