The universe belongs to Marvel. Avengers: Endgame shattered the record for biggest opening weekend with an estimated $US350 million in ticket sales domestically and $US1.2 billion globally, reaching a new pinnacle in the blockbuster era that the comic-book studio has come to dominate.
The "Avengers" finale far exceeded even its own gargantuan expectations, according to studio estimates on Sunday. The movie had been forecast to open between $260m and $300m in US and Canadian theatres, but moviegoers turned out in such droves that "Endgame" blew past the previous record of $257.7m, set last year by Avengers: Infinity War when it narrowly surpassed Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($248m or about $266m in inflation adjusted dollars.)
Endgame was just as enormous overseas. Worldwide, it obliterated the previous record of $640.5m, also set by Infinity War. (Infinity War didn't open in China, the world's second largest movie market, until two weeks after its debut.) Endgame set a new weekend record in China, too, where it made $330.5m.
In one fell swoop, Endgame has already made more than movies like Skyfall, Aquaman and The Dark Knight Rises grossed in their entire runs, not accounting for inflation.
Alan Horn, Disney chairman, credited Marvel Studios and its president, Kevin Feige, for challenging "notions of what is possible at the movie theatre."
"This weekend's monumental success is a testament to the world they've envisioned, the talent involved, and their collective passion, matched by the irrepressible enthusiasm of fans around the world," Mr Horn said in a statement.
To accommodate demand, the Walt Disney Co. released Endgame in more theatres - 4662 in the US and Canada - than any opening before. Advance ticketing services set new records. Early ticket buyers crashed AMC's website. And starting Thursday, some theatres even stayed open 72 hours straight.
"We've got some really tired staff," said John Fithian, president and chief executive of the National Association of Theater Owners. "I talked to an exhibitor in Kansas who said, 'I've never sold out a 7am show on Saturday morning before,' and they were doing it all across their circuit."
Not working in the film's favour was its lengthy running time: 161 minutes. But theatres kept added thousands of showings for Endgame to get it on more screens than any movie before to satiate the frenzy around Endgame. Joe and Anthony Russo's film ties together the Avengers storyline as well as the previous 21 releases of the Marvel "cinematic universe," begun with 2008′s Iron Man.
For an industry dogged by uncertainty over the growing role of streaming, the weekend was a mammoth display of the movie theatre's lucrative potency. Fithian called it possibly "the most significant moment in the modern history of the movie business."
"We're looking at more than 30 million American and more than 100 million global guests that experienced Endgame on the big screen in one weekend," Mr Fithian said. "The numbers are just staggering."
Further boosting the results for Endgame were good reviews; it currently ranks as 96 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, the best rating for any Marvel movie aside from Black Panther. Audiences gave the film an A-plus CinemaScore.
Single-handedly, Endgame led the overall weekend at the domestic box office to a record $400m in ticket sales, according to Comscore. Endgame accounted for a staggering 88 percent of those tickets. The film's grosses were aided by 3-D screenings (a record $540m in global ticket sales) and IMAX screenings (a company record $91.5m).
"Our partners in exhibition have done a great job with us on this film. As they saw the need, they opened up screens," said Cathleen Taft, distribution chief for Disney. "While there may have been a concern - Is there going to be enough seats available? - I think that exhibition met that demand and rose to the occasion."
But if there was any shadow to the weekend for the theatrical business, it was in just how reliant theatres have grown on one studio: Disney.
Disney now holds all but one of the top 12 box-office openings of all time. (Universal's Jurassic World is the lone exception.) The studio is poised for a record-breaking year, with releases including Aladdin, Toy Story 4, The Lion King, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Frozen 2 on the horizon.
Following its acquisition of 20th Century Fox, Disney is expected to account for at least 40 percent of domestic box-office revenue in 2019, a new record of market share. The company's Captain Marvel - positioned as a kind of Marvel lead-in to Endgame - also rose to number two on the weekend, eight weeks after it opened.
But theatre owners regularly speak of a "halo effect" around a movie like Endgame. Such sensations draw in new moviegoers and expose millions to a barrage of movie trailers.
"This has got to be the biggest weekend in popcorn history," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Comscore. "Think of the gallons of soda and the hot dogs sold. This is going to continue all week and beyond. This is going to have long-term playability for sure."
An enormous hit was much needed for a box office that, coming into the weekend, was lagging 16 percent of the pace of last year's ticket sales, according to Comscore. Endgame moved the needle to negative 13.3 percent but the boost was less significant since Infinity War opened on the same weekend in 2018.
No other new wide release dared to open against Endgame. Warner Bros.′ The Curse of La Llorona, last week's top movie, slid to third with $7.5m.
The guessing game will now shift to just how much higher Endgame can go. Given its start, it's likely to rival the top three worldwide grossers: The Force Awakens ($2.068bn in 2015), Titanic ($2.187bn in 1997) and Avatar ($2.788bn in 2009).