Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner (The Hulk) and Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark (Iron Man) in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Credit: Marvel Entertainment.

Only two films in Hollywood history have earned over $2 billion at the global box office: Titanic and Avatar. I'm betting Avengers: Age of Ultron will be the third.

Not just because I'm a fan (though I am, and unabashedly so). Current and historical data point to outsized performance from Disney's (NYSE:DIS) latest superhero epic, which opens on May 1, 2015, in the U.S. Let's start with the historical data.

Supersized sequels
Like most franchises, Marvel movies tend to enjoy strong follow-ups. Here's a look at the last three from the post-Avengers era:

Worldwide Gross
Improvement over prior film
Est. Gross Profit
Profit Margin

Iron Man 3

$1,215.4 million


$391.3 million


Captain America: The Winter Soldier

$714.1 million


$151.3 million


Thor: The Dark World

$644.8 million


$132.2 million


Sources: Box Office Mojo and author's estimates.

Why focus only on films released after The Avengers broke box office records? As I see it, that film was a watershed moment for the studio, proving Marvel's fare had blockbuster potential beyond the Iron Man franchise led by Robert Downey Jr. Box office results have since proven the staying power of the team's other members, Captain America and Thor.

In each case, the second entries in each character's film series, both post-Avengers, earned far more than the movies that came before. Up 77% on average, if you want to be specific. Avengers: Age of Ultron would have to perform just 32% better than its predecessor to reach the coveted $2 billion plateau.

Enthusiasm for a new trailer suggests we'll see at least that much growth. On its news blog, Marvel said the Age of Ultron screener attracted 34.3 million global views in its first 24 hours of release -- 20 million more than Iron Man 3, the prior record holder, drew over a similar period. "Only Tony Stark can outdo Tony Stark," the post quipped. A longer "special look" had garnered another 5 million views at YouTube as of this writing:

Avengers: Age of Ultron punches its way into theaters in May 2015. Credit: Marvel Entertainment.

A supersized setup, too
If all that weren't enough to push Age of Ultron into the record books, the hope of in-film teasers of what's to come next might just do the trick. Earlier this week, Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige took to the stage at Disney's El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles to unveil the complete schedule for Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Reaction has been almost overwhelmingly positive. The most notable objection? No sign of a solo Black Widow movie starring Scarlett Johansson. Among the highlights:

  • Captain America and Iron Man go to war. Forget what you see on the screen below. That title was a head fake. Instead, Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. will mix it up in Captain America: Civil War, which appears to be based on the popular comic book event of the same name.

  • A new leader for The Avengers? In the comics, Black Panther is a key member and frequent leader of Avengers teams that don't feature Captain America. Chadwick Boseman is to play the character in at least five Marvel movies, including November 2017's Black Panther.

  • Marvel finally gets its leading lady. OK, you could argue Johansson already has this title by virtue of her well-received portrayals of Black Widow in three movies (Iron Man 2, Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier). She'll get a fourth turn in Age of Ultron, but not a solo movie. That honor is reserved for Captain Marvel, otherwise known as Carol Danvers, an Air Force officer who inherits a variety cosmic powers in an encounter with the alien Kree race depicted in the summer hit Guardians of the Galaxy. We don't yet know who will play the character, but Katee Sackhoff has campaigned for the part in years past.

Also, as shown below, the studio is moving ahead with what had been a tentative plan to release three internally produced Marvel movies a year. The expansion must be fueling enthusiasm for the entire MCU, which is bound to be good for Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige introducing the lineup for Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He'd later clarify that Cap 3 will be titled Captain America: Civil War. Credit: Marvel Entertainment.

A big universe getting bigger
Think of this as a gateway film. Like its predecessor was for Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Guardians of the Galaxy, Age of Ultron will be a staging ground that teases and introduces us to the characters and stories in Phase 3, and in the process begins the transition to new actors and franchises.

History says a lot of people are going to want to see that. I'm betting on there being enough to make Avengers: Age of Ultron Marvel's first $2 billion movie -- though certainly not its last.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.