Box Office Report: After a Record-Breaking Debut, How High Can ‘Captain America 2’ Fly?

"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" just enjoyed a record-breaking April debut. Credit: Disney/Marvel.

Forget the skeptics, Marvel fans, because Captain America: The Winter Soldier is officially a massive hit.

What skeptics, you ask? Believe it or not, many doubted whether Captain America: The Winter Soldier could hold its own in Disney's (NYSE: DIS  ) current Marvel Cinematic Universe. After all, Captain America: The First Avenger opened in 2011 to "just" $65 million in the U.S. en route to a mediocre $370.6 million worldwide total. Only 2008's The Incredible Hulk fared worse, with a $55 million domestic launch and a $263.4 million global cume.

Unlike Winter Soldier, however, neither enjoyed the increased franchise visibility provided by 2012's Marvel's The Avengers, which was further bolstered by both Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World last year.

Sure enough, when this weekend's final numbers rolled in yesterday evening, Disney's latest superhero flick had grossed an incredible $95 million in its U.S. debut. That was more than enough to crush the previous $86.2 million April record set three years ago by Fast Five. And yes, even adjusted for inflation, Winter Soldier's opening still takes the cake over the racing franchise winner by almost $6 million.

The holdovers
To put that into perspective, Viacom (NASDAQ: VIA  ) Paramount's Noah arrived a very distant second place this weekend at $17 million, good for a staggering 61% plunge from its $43.7 million debut last week. To be fair, that's actually a bit better than I had expected based on Noah's slow start Friday, which appeared to put it on pace for around $14 million this weekend. This in mind, Noah has managed to tack on $106.2 million overseas so far, bringing its worldwide total to $178.6 million. That's still not enough to recoup Viacom's $125 million investment, but at least fuels Viacom investors' hopes it will ultimately be able to achieve profitability.

Meanwhile, Lions Gate's (NYSE: LGF  ) $85 million effort with Divergent gathered another $13 million from stateside movie-goers. That brings Divergent's worldwide total to $136.4 million so far, including $114 million from the U.S. audiences alone. But don't worry Lions Gate investors; Divergent only just began to roll out in earnest overseas this weekend, so Lions Gate should see a big bump in overall sales as international numbers are updated over the next few days.

The multi-million dollar question
Remembering Disney's $170 million production budget, how high can Captain America: The Winter Soldier fly?

First, we need to keep seasonality in mind. This is, after all, the earliest calendar year release Disney has ever attempted for a Marvel film, so it's tough to get a direct comparison.

Still, the early May releases of Thor and the last two Iron Man films collectively gathered an average of 40% of their total domestic sales during their first weekends. If Captain America: The Winter Soldier holds anywhere close to that ratio, it should end up totaling around $225 million in the U.S. over the next few months. That'd be good enough to secure fifth place domestically among its peers, trailing behind Iron Man 2's $312.4 million and just ahead of $206.4 million from Thor: The Dark World -- certainly not bad company to keep. 

Here's what Cap needs to overcome now
The real wild card, then, is how a movie about Captain America will hold up in other countries, especially since the first film only derived $193.9 million, or 52.3%, of its overall sales internationally. Lucky for Disney investors, Winter Soldier seems to be holding up much better this time.

Specifically, though Iron Man and Thor last week appeared to be much mightier overseas franchises by a wide margin, the latest figures show Captain America: The Winter Soldier has already enticed international audiences to spend over $207 million over the past two weeks, representing 68.5% of overall sales. At the same point in Thor: The Dark World's theatrical run, it had just opened lower in the U.S. at $85.7 million, but international represented around 73.7% of total sales, or $240.9 million. 

In short: Captain America is still the weaker worldwide franchise, but the gap appears to have narrowed considerably. As a result, and given Cap's stronger U.S. appeal, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Captain America: The Winter Soldier meets or beats Thor: The Dark World's solid $644.8 million worldwide total.

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