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After $200M China Debut, Can ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ Overtake ‘Avatar’?

Despite historic heroic box office start, Marvel flick still $1B away from all-time top spot.

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There are at least two sectors of the movie universe that Thanos probably won’t be able to conquer — the planet Pandora from Avatar and that famous galaxy far, far away.

For a third straight weekend, Avengers: Infinity War took the top spot at the box office with $61.8 million domestically and  $281.3 million worldwide, powered by a staggering $200 million opening in China.  Those gaudy numbers bring the film’s totals to $547.8 million in North America, good for eighth best of all time, and $1.606 billion worldwide — already the fifth highest grosser in history. And that’s just after the first 17 days of release.

But the latest Marvel film is on the verge of falling back to Earth.

Despite the speed with which Infinity War crossed the $1.5 billion mark for parent company Disney, it looks extremely unlikely to reach the top spot on either the North American or global all-time box office chart.  Those titles will likely continue to be held respectively by Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($937 million) and Avatar ($2.788 billion) until some far-flung future long after Infinity War leaves theaters.

“The other movies that got into the $2 billion club were December releases who ran into much lower competition over the long-term,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior box office analyst for ComScore.

“Those movies were marathoners that ran a course where there was much less competition.”

The upcoming release schedule is stacked against Robert Downey Jr. and company. For starters, Avengers: Infinity War is out of time. The next two weekends will see the release of Fox’s Deadpool 2 (May 18) and another Disney entry, Solo: A Star Wars Story (May 25). The Force Awakens and Avatar both benefited from avoiding the notoriously crowded fields of the summer movie season.

Dergarabedian points out that Avatar couldn’t have attained its record numbers without having gone against a historically weak batch of competitors. In the period between its release on Dec. 18, 2009, and the middle of March 2010, director James Cameron’s sci-fi opus earned  $725.4 million. The next nearest rival, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, released just one week later,  earned $217.6 million.

For another movie to reach the $3 billion mark globally is as unlikely right now as a runner breaking the 3-minute mile in track and field.

It will require higher ticket prices — Avatar demanded more expensive 3D viewings —  combined with a film that really captures the pop culture zeitgeist — just like The Force Awakens, the first new Star Wars movie in years, did in 2015. And it will almost certainly be another December release. Even the Hulk doesn’t have that kind of muscle at this time of year.

“It’s the nature of the summer movie season,” said Dergarabedian. “It’s a much more competitive time frame with audiences migrating from one big blockbuster to the next every week.”