By Grady Smith
Updated May 02, 2013 at 09:16 PM EDT
  • Movie

Last year, The Avengers became the first film in domestic box office history to earn over $200 million on its opening weekend. (It earned $207.4 million.) So will Iron Man 3, the first individual Avengers film since the ensemble event, become the second film to join the $200 million club this weekend?

Probably not. But the Disney/Marvel sequel, which cost $200 million to produce, should easily achieve one of the best opening weekends of all time — a start above $150 million seems practically guaranteed.

Internationally, Iron Man 3 has already opened to better numbers than The Avengers. On its opening weekend Iron Man 3 soared to $198.4 million, a better start than The Avengers‘ $185.1 million international bow. After eight days, Iron Man 3 has taken in $307.7 million overseas, which includes a record-breaking $21.5 million opening day in China. For reference, Iron Man 2 earned $311.5 million TOTAL in its entire international run. It appears that Iron Man 3 should enjoy a finish closer to The Avengers‘ $888.4 million international haul.

Domestically, Iron Man 3 has as clear a path to number one as any film could ever hope to enjoy. The superhero sequel, which stars Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, and Ben Kingsley, is the only wide release entering a woefully weak market, which has seen both revenues and attendance fall by 12 percent in the first four months of 2013. Audiences are no doubt hungry for a major event film, and unless Pain & Gain unexpectedly achieves a great second weekend hold, no film other than Iron Man 3 will make over $10 million.

Both of Iron Man 3‘s predecessor’s enjoyed terrific debut frames during their respective May releases. In 2008, Iron Man shocked prognosticators with a $98.6 million opening en route to a $318.4 million finish. In 2010, Iron Man 2 took off even faster with $128.1 million in its first three days, though the film’s tepid reception limited its box office endurance, and it finished with a slightly smaller $312.4 million. Any bad taste that Iron Man 2 left in peoples’ mouths, though, should be negated from the giant profile-boost that The Avengers, which earned $623 million (and $1.5 billion worldwide), gave Tony Stark and company.

Disney is releasing Iron Man 3 into an ultra-wide 4,253 theaters, and with the addition of 3-D and IMAX fees tacked onto ticket prices, the film could be headed for a blazing $172 million weekend. If it achieves that number, Iron Man 3 will beat out Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2‘s $169.2 million debut as the second-best opening weekend of all time.

So that’s my final estimate: $172 million. Why $172 million? Well, $170 million seems conservative, and $175 million seems a little bullish. This feels right. And just for kicks, I’ll say that Iron Man 3 finishes with $380 million domestically and $1.15 billion worldwide.

Hit me with your Iron Man 3 predictions in the comments below, and check back to EW all weekend long for complete box office coverage.

For more box office coverage:

Read more:

Iron Man 3

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 129 minutes
  • Shane Black