As if there were ever any doubt, Thor: The Dark World unsurprisingly took the box office by storm this weekend, commanding an incredible $86.1 million in its widely anticipated U.S. debut. For reference, that's a 31% improvement over the first Thor in 2011, which managed a stateside weekend box office launch of "just" $65.7 million.
Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Marvel-inspired sequel has thrilled movie-goers around the world for the past two weeks, receiving a solid "A-" CinemaScore and earning $327 million in gross ticket receipts so far. By contrast, when all was said and done, its predecessor managed a still respectable $449.3 million global take during its own theatrical run.
So how's that stack up to other Marvel sequels?
Well, Iron Man 2 had a staggering $128.1 million U.S. weekend launch back in 2010, good for a roughly 30% gain over the first film en route to an eventual $623.9 million total. Earlier this year (and on the heels of Disney's 2012 blockbuster in Marvel's The Avengers), Iron Man 3 jumped another 35.9% to achieve its $174.1 million U.S. opening weekend -- the largest of 2013 so far. When all was said and done, Iron Man 3 also managed to solidify its place as the fifth-highest grossing film of all time with a total gross of over $1.2 billion.
Of course, that's also not to understate the importance of what the Thor franchise is helping Disney achieve. After all, Thor is key to Marvel's The Avengers, for which Disney is planning at least two sequels and whose $1.52 billion gross currently stands the third-highest total of all-time, trailing only Titanic and Avatar.
Here's how the competition held up
What's more, you can bet the demigod's fellow box office contenders wish they could achieve the same level of prowess.
Also this weekend, Viacom's (NASDAQ:VIAB) third-week holdover Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa impressively managed to squeeze out second place, adding another $11.3 million domestically and bringing its worldwide total to nearly $101 million. But don't let the small numbers fool you; Viacom only spent $15 million to produce the raunchy comedy, so at this point Bad Grandpa is simply running up the score.
Meanwhile, Relativity Media's Thanksgiving-themed Free Birds demonstrated decent legs of its own, falling just 29.3% in its second week to grab another $11.18 million from domestic audiences. That said, with its target holiday approaching quickly, don't be surprised if Free Birds maintains that endurance well over the next few weeks.
CBS (NYSE:CBS) Films' Last Vegas also appears to be succeeding in the studio's effort to target older audiences, with week-two sales dropping just 32% to $11.1 million. That puts Last Vegas' gross at $33.5 million, or well above CBS' reasonable $28 million production budget for the film.
And no, I haven't forgotten Lionsgate's (NYSE:LGF.A) controversial sci-fi thriller, Ender's Game, which has suffered from mixed (though positive-leaning) reviews, a slow international roll-out and, most notably, boycotts stemming from the outspoken -- albeit unrelated -- personal views of author Orson Scott Card.
As I feared last week, it appears Thor: The Dark World is effectively helping Ender's Game crumble, as its second week sales plunged a harrowing 62.1% to just $10.25 million. So far, Ender's Game has earned just $53.1 million worldwide, or less than half its lofty $110 million budget.
As a result, and with no significant new competition slated before Lionsgate's The Hunger Games: Catching Fire hits theaters on Nov. 22, Thor should have little trouble maintaining its dominance until then.
Fool contributor Steve Symington has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.