Thor: The Dark World—the sequel to 2011's Thor and the second follow-up to The Avengers—opens in 3,841 locations this weekend, and will likely earn more than all other current releases combined. It's unlikely, though, that the God of Thunder will move in to the pantheon of solo comic book superheros with $100 million openings (Batman, Spider-Man, Iron Man and Superman).
The Thor sequel is the eighth movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which began with 2008's Iron Man and hit its high point with last Summer's The Avengers. The original Thor arrived in theaters on the coveted first weekend of May 2011, but opened to a somewhat underwhelming $65.7 million. It closed with a solid $181 million, which is way off from all three Iron Man movies, but is at least better than The Incredible Hulk.
At this point, it's a foregone conclusion that Thor: The Dark World will do stronger business than the first Thor thanks to what we like to call "The Avengers Effect." The theory behind this is that The Avengers was viewed and liked by such a wide audience ($623 million at the domestic box office) that its characters' subsequent solo outings will receive a boost in sales. This was in effect for Iron Man 3, which was up 36 percent from its predecessor on opening weekend. If Thor: The Dark World has a similar bump, it will earn around $90 million this weekend.
The Avengers association isn't enough on its own, though, and Thor 2's opening is at least partially dependent on whether the movie looks appealing. Unfortunately, it has only been hit-or-miss in that department. Marketing has smartly emphasized the return of fan-favorite Loki, and has also reached out to women by promoting Natalie Portman's character. Still, it's unclear who the villain is or what the stakes are, which runs in contrast to Iron Man 3's campaign (which clearly showcased villain The Mandarin and the destruction of Tony Stark's mansion).
One of Thor's unique advantages is that it has five minutes of footage from Captain America: The Winter Soldier playing in front of 3D showings. Add in the fact that Gravity has given 3D some added credibility as of late, and it's likely that a solid portion of Thor's audience (possibly as high as 50 percent) opts for the premium-priced tickets.
Fandango is reporting that Thor 2's pre-sales are about on par with Fast & Furious 6, which opened to $97.4 million earlier this year. While that might be a bit high, it is entirely possible that Thor matches Skyfall's $90.5 million debut on the same weekend last year.
Also this weekend: time travel romance About Time is expanding to 1,200 locations after a week in limited release. Unfortunately, that week wasn't particularly impressive: the movie earned less than $1.1 million from 175 locations, which doesn't bode well for the nationwide expansion. Universal is expecting around $5 million this weekend.
After three very successful weeks in limited release, Fox Searchlight's acclaimed slavery drama 12 Years a Slave expands nationwide to 1,144 theaters this weekend. The movie grossed $4.8 million from 410 theaters last weekend, and should at least match that figure this weekend.
Forecast (Nov. 8-10) 1. Thor 2 - $89 million 2. Bad Grandpa - $13.6 million (-32%) 3. Last Vegas - $11.2 million (-31%) 4. Ender's Game - $11.1 million (-59%) 5. Free Birds - $10.2 million (-35%)
Bar for Success Thor: The Dark World doesn't need to match Iron Man 3, though it really ought to be opening to at least half as much. Anything above $85 million is a win.