Credit: Zade Rosenthal

ORIGINAL POST: Moviegoers assembled! Disney’s The Avengers debuted to a gargantuan $80.5 million on Friday, including $18.7 million from Thursday midnight showings, according to early estimates.

That gives the $220 million Marvel superhero film the second-largest opening day ever, behind only last year’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2, which earned $91.1 million its first day. It also means that the opening weekend record, also held by Deathly Hallows — Part 2 with $169.2 million, is in jeopardy. Depending on how well The Avengers holds up on Saturday and Sunday, the movie will finish the weekend somewhere between $160 million and $200 million. My guess at this point: a record-breaking $180 million.

Whether or not The Avengers breaks the weekend record will depend on how front-loaded its business was on Friday. Deathly Hallows — Part 2, for instance, dropped 53 percent from Friday to Saturday, and its Friday gross of $91.1 million ended up representing a huge 54 percent of its weekend total. If The Avengers were to follow that trajectory, it’d finish the weekend with about $150 million. But it’s safe to assume that Deathly Hallows, which pulled in a record $43.5 million from midnight screenings alone, was considerably more front-loaded than The Avengers will be.

Another comparison point would be this year’s other mega-blockbuster The Hunger Games, which scored $67.3 million its opening day, or 44 percent of its $152.5 million weekend tally. If The Avengers follows suit, it’d walk away with nearly $183 million this weekend. And then you have the even better scenario of 2010’s Iron Man 2, which took in 40 percent of its weekend gross ($128.1 million) on Friday ($51.2 million). That kind of stamina would lead to a (gulp) $201 million weekend for The Avengers. I think it’s reasonable to assume The Avengers was more of a “got-to-see-it-on-opening-day” kind of movie than Iron Man 2, so I’m skeptical of it reaching the $200 million mark — though it is certainly a possibility.

What The Avengers really has going for it, though, is that audiences absolutely love it. The 3-D movie, which was directed by fanboy favorite Joss Whedon, earned a rare “A+” rating from CinemaScore participants. With an “A+” grade, The Avengers joins the company of such crowd-pleasing movies as Die Hard, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, A Few Good Men, Forrest Gump, The Help, The Incredibles, The King’s Speech, The Lion King, and Titanic. That’s good company to be in, and it means that even though a huge amount of people rushed out to see The Avengers on opening day, those moviegoers are now in the process of encouraging their more hesitant friends to also check out the film.

According to CinemaScore, 61 percent of the audience were men, who gave the movie a slightly better rating (A+) than women did (A). That’s not unexpected. What is interesting, however, is that 69 percent of the audience was at least 25 years of age. That figure will likely even out as more family audiences and teens see the PG-13 movie today and tomorrow, but it does invalidate the theory that The Avengers would only appeal to younger moviegoers.

Considering that at one point on Friday, The Avengers was selling a record 19 tickets per second on the ticket service Fandango, it’s easy to forget that people were seeing other movies, too. Among holdovers, the PG-13 relationship comedy Think Like a Man fell 51 percent for $2.7 million on Friday. It’s on pace for an $8 million weekend, pushing its three-week total to a solid $73 million. The top five was rounded out by The Lucky One ($2 million, down 50 percent), The Five-Year Engagement ($1.7 million, down 51 percent), and that other box-office behemoth, The Hunger Games ($1.6 million, down 46 percent).

In limited release, the Brits-in-India comedy The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel checked in with $197,000 at 27 locations, for a sturdy per-theater average of $7,300. Check back with on Sunday for the complete box office report.

1. The Avengers — $80.5 mil

2. Think Like a Man — $2.7 mil

3. The Lucky One — $2.0 mil

4. The Five-Year Engagement — $1.7 mil

5. The Hunger Games — $1.6 mil

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