'Avengers' hurtles to $178.4M overseas debut

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The superhero saga "The Avengers" lived up to its blockbuster buzz with $178.4 million in overseas ticket sales days before it opens in U.S. theaters.

Domestic audiences generally passed on a bunch of new flicks as fans seem to be in anticipation mode for Disney's "The Avengers," which debuts Friday in the United States after launching in 39 other countries a week earlier.

The huge overseas launch will help fan the frenzy already in place for "The Avengers," the superhero mash-up of Marvel Comics idols whose cast includes Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner and Samuel L. Jackson.

"You hope that the magnitude of this kind of opening sends a signal that this is a for-everyone film," said Dave Hollis, head of distribution for Disney. "You can't put up these kinds of numbers if it's just for guys or just for the fans. These numbers say that it is for everyone, 8 to 80."

The Sony Screen Gems ensemble comedy "Think Like a Man" was No. 1 domestically for the second-straight weekend with $18 million.

Four movies were bunched up for the No. 2 spot in the $11 million range: Sony's animated comedy "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" with $11.4 million; the Warner Bros. romantic drama "The Lucky One" with $11.3 million; Lionsgate's blockbuster "The Hunger Games" with $11.25 million; and Universal's romantic comedy "The Five-Year Engagement" with $11.2 million.

Those four flicks were so close that their rankings from Sunday studio estimates could change once final numbers are released Monday.

Along with "Pirates," whose voice cast was led by Hugh Grant, and "Five-Year Engagement," which stars Jason Segel and Emily Blunt, the other newcomers were Jason Statham's action tale "Safe" from Lionsgate at No. 6 with $7.7 million and John Cusack's Edgar Allan Poe mystery "The Raven" from Relativity Media at No. 7 with $7.3 million.

"I think going to the movies will be the No. 1 priority next weekend but clearly was not the No. 1 priority this weekend," said Paul Dergarabedian, analyst for box-office tracker Hollywood.com. "There's so much anticipation for 'The Avengers' that the newcomers kind of got lost in the shuffle."

"The Hunger Games" climbed to $372.5 million domestically, putting it less than $10 million behind last year's "Harry Potter" finale, the top-grossing entry of that fantasy franchise.

"Think Like a Man" raised its domestic total to $60.9 million, while "The Lucky One" lifted its haul to $39.9 million.

Along with the United States, "The Avengers" has yet to open in other big markets that include Japan, China and Russia.

Among the overseas totals for "The Avengers": $24.7 million in Great Britain; $19.7 million in Australia; $15.9 million in Mexico; $12.9 million in South Korea; and $12.9 million in France.

Directed by Joss Whedon ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer"), "The Avengers" has strong word-of-mouth domestically from fans who were able to see advanced screenings.

Critics also have given the film high marks, and the publicity blast from the overseas revenues could push the movie into record-debut territory. The "Harry Potter" finale now has the top opening weekend domestically with $169.2 million, followed by "The Dark Knight" with $158.4 million and "The Hunger Games" with $152.5 million.

"Who knows?" Disney's Hollis said. "It's a film that comes with very high expectations but leaves audiences exceptionally satisfied. I'd say there's opportunity for some repeat viewing just in the first weekend that will help make it big."

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Where available, latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

1. "Think Like a Man," $18 million.

2. "The Pirates! Band of Misfits," $11.4 million ($5.5 million international).

3. "The Lucky One," $11.3 million ($4.8 million international).

4. "The Hunger Games," $11.25 million ($7.4 million international).

5. "The Five-Year Engagement," $11.2 million.

6. "Safe," $7.7 million ($2.4 million international).

7. "The Raven," $7.3 million.

8. "Chimpanzee," $5.5 million.

9. "The Three Stooges," $5.4 million.

10. "The Cabin in the Woods," $4.5 million ($1.5 million international).

___

Estimated weekend ticket sales at international theaters (excluding the U.S. and Canada) for films distributed overseas by Hollywood studios, according to Rentrak:

1. "The Avengers," $178.4 million.

2. "Battleship," $22.5 million.

3. "Titanic" in 3-D, $18.5 million.

4. "American Reunion," $14.5 million.

5. "The Hunger Games," $7.4 million.

6. "The Pirates! Band of Misfits," $5.5 million.

7. "The Lucky One," $4.8 million.

8. "Le Prenom," $4.4 million.

9 (tie). "Mirror Mirror," $3.2 million.

9 (tie). "Wrath of the Titans," $3.2 million.

___

Online:

http://www.hollywood.com

http://www.rentrak.com

___

Universal and Focus are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp.; Sony, Columbia, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; Paramount is owned by Viacom Inc.; Disney, Pixar and Marvel are owned by The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is owned by Filmyard Holdings LLC; 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are owned by News Corp.; Warner Bros. and New Line are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a group of former creditors including Highland Capital, Anchorage Advisors and Carl Icahn; Lionsgate is owned by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; IFC is owned by AMC Networks Inc.; Rogue is owned by Relativity Media LLC.

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