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‘Thor: The Dark World’ displays box office clout

This publicity photo released by Walt Disney Studios and Marvel shows Chris 
Hemsworth in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World."
This publicity photo released by Walt Disney Studios and Marvel shows Chris Hemsworth in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World."

LOS ANGELES – 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 year’s fourth-highest opening, but well behind Marvel’s “Iron Man 3,” whose $174 million debut is still the biggest of 2013.

Heading into the weekend, pre-release 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 will probably do so well overseas that the studio should end up in good shape.

Yet a film from the Marvel universe is held to exceptionally high standards. With the latest “Thor” hitting theaters in the wake of 2012’s “The Avengers” and this past summer’s “Iron Man 3,” some expected “The Dark World” to see an even larger box-office bump.

“Iron Man 3” raked in an insane $1.2 billion worldwide. The movie no doubt benefited from the success of “The Avengers,” which features both Iron Man and Thor, and became the top-grossing film of 2012 with $1.5 billion in global sales.

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 in the franchise, so it was given the benefit of the doubt. With the sequel’s launch, it seems clear that “Thor” movies are not destined to perform at the rate that “Iron Man” films do.

But holding “Thor” up against Marvel’s other brands isn’t fair, says Dave Hollis, Disney’s executive vice president of distribution.

“Jumping to comparisons with ‘Iron Man’ or ‘The Avengers’ is not terribly appropriate. Any time you can wake up to an $80 million-plus opening, you’re appreciative,” Hollis said. “Yes, there are certain stories in the Marvel universe that have lent themselves to being the broadest, but there are others that can still put up extraordinary numbers.”

As expected, “The Dark World” appealed to a male audience; just 38 percent of the weekend crowd was female. Disney also reported that most moviegoers, about 51 percent, were between 18 and 34.

Heading into the weekend, “The Dark World” had already grossed well over $100 million abroad. Playing in 66 foreign markets this weekend, the film earned an additional $94 million, bringing its international total to $240.9 million.

Back in the U.S., no other brand-new film dared to face off against “Thor.” Both the family film “Free Birds” and the older adult-aimed “Last Vegas” had strong holds in their second weekend in theaters, with each film’s ticket sales only dropping roughly 30 percent. “Bad Grandpa” was No. 2 with an estimated $11.3 million.

Meanwhile, “Ender’s Game,” the young-adult sci-fi adaptation that didn’t get off to an exceptional start last weekend, saw its receipts tumble a disappointing 62 percent to $10.3 million. With “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” set to hit theaters around Thanksgiving, that doesn’t bode well for “Ender’s,” which has now grossed a total of $44 million.

The romantic drama “About Time,” which played in limited release last weekend, expanded to 1,200 theaters and grossed an underwhelming $5.2 million. The Universal Pictures film has now grossed $6.7 million in North America, far less than the $38.2 million it’s made abroad. The movie has performed best in Britain, where the film is set and where its writer-director Richard Curtis hails from.

“12 Years a Slave,” which has each weekend been slowly adding theaters since its debut in mid-October, finally reached a wide audience in 1,144 locations this weekend. Fox Searchlight’s critical darling did a bit better than “About Time,” grossing $6.6 million and raising its overall tally to a respectable $17.3 million.

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