Sorry, British wizards. It's time for an all-American hero to reign at the box office.
'Captain America: The First Avenger' opened at No. 1 with an estimated $65.8 million, dethroning 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2' and beating fellow Marvel flick 'Thor' by a hair for bragging rights to the biggest superhero movie debut of the summer. In its second week, 'Potter' plunged 72 percent to an estimated $48.1 million, still a weekend take that most movies would kill for.
A close race was expected this weekend between the 'Avengers' franchise launcher and the 'Potter' franchise farewell. Both movies were expected to earn anywhere from $50 to $65 million, with a lot of variables in play. Both films are playing in 2D and 3D versions, both are riding strong waves of promotional hype and positive word-of-mouth and both seem to have all-ages appeal. Plus, a sharp drop-off for 'Potter' was inevitable after last week's multiple record-breaking opening, while anticipation for 'Captain America' has been building for at least three years.
In the end, 'Captain America' slightly exceeded expectations; its $65.8 million take is just barely ahead of the $65.7 million that 'Thor' earned during its first weekend a couple months ago. According to Paramount, it did even better among an older audience (after all, the comic has been around for decades), attracting a crowd whose over-25 share was 58 percent.
Opening in third place was 'Friends With Benefits,' which scored an estimated $18.5 million. That's a respectable number, considering that the similar 'No Strings Attached' (which opened with $19.7 million) was in theaters just a few months ago, or that it was competing for older audiences with 'Captain America' and 'Harry Potter,' or that two other R-rated comedies ('Horrible Bosses' and 'Bad Teacher') are still in the top 10, or that neither Justin Timberlake nor Mila Kunis is a proven box office draw.
'Horrible Bosses' was just a shade behind 'Transformers,' earning an estimated $11.7 million, good for fifth place. It saw a third-week decline of just 34 percent. In 17 days, it's earned $82.4 million.
Box office for the year is still down 6 percent ($385.5 million) from this time in 2010. Still, box office for July is up almost 4 percent ($39.4 million) from this time last July. A few more weeks like the last two, and 2011 may finally pull ahead of 2010.
UPDATE: Final figures released Monday give 'Captain America' a slightly lower total of $65.1 million. So 'Thor' still boasts the biggest superhero debut of the summer, just barely.
The full top 10 (revised final figures):
1. 'Captain America: The First Avenger,' $65.1 million (3,715 screens), new release
2. 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2,' $47.4 million (4,375), $273.5 million total
3. 'Friends With Benefits,' $18.6 million (2,926), new release
4. 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon,' $12.0 million (3,375), $325.8 million
5. 'Horrible Bosses,' $11.9 million (3,104), $82.6 million
6. 'Zookeeper,' $8.7 million (3,215), $59.2 million
7. 'Cars 2,' $5.7 million (2,668), $176.4 million
8. 'Winnie the Pooh,' $5.2 million (2,405), $17.6 million
9. 'Bad Teacher,' $2.6 million (2,034), $94.4 million
10. 'Midnight in Paris,' $1.8 million (621), $44.7 million
Follow Gary Susman on Twitter: @garysusman.