Walt Disney Co.’s new “Avengers” movie could have the biggest feature-film debut of all time when it’s released May 1, helping keep movie profits up at the world’s largest entertainment company.
“Avengers: Age of Ultron” is forecast to collect $217 million over its opening weekend in the U.S. and Canada, according to researcher Boxoffice.com. The first “Avengers,” in 2012, generated $207 million and -- at the moment -- holds the best-ever opening weekend ranking.
The sequel is critical to maintaining the momentum at Disney’s movie unit, which had record operating profit of $1.55 billion last year, due largely to the animated hit “Frozen.”
“This film has to be big,” said Martin Pyykkonen, an analyst with Rosenblatt Securities Inc. in Lakewood, Colorado. “Everything they’ve said for quite a few months has been very bullish about the film segment.”
The next installment in the “Star Wars” franchise by Lucasfilm Ltd., which Disney acquired three years ago, won’t be out until December, after the company’s fiscal year ends.
The forecast for the “Avengers” opening weekend is based on analyses of posts on Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc., among other things, said Phil Contrino, chief analyst at Boxoffice.com in Washington. On Twitter, he said, the number and intensity of positive posts have been the strongest Boxoffice.com researchers have seen for any movie since they started monitoring the site.
Disney’s Marvel Studios has been enticing theater-goers with snippets from the latest “Avengers” since last year, with clips showing the ensemble cast that has Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson reprising their roles.
“The way fans have reacted to trailers has been very encouraging, with a lot of enthusiasm,” Contrino said
Marvel said on its Twitter account that the most recent trailer smashed records with over 35 million views. The movie’s Facebook page has over 18 million likes.
Since the last “Avengers,” Marvel has made other films that built up interest in the characters, Contrino said. One of them, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” was the fourth biggest film of 2014 with $715 million in global ticket sales, according to data provider Box Office Mojo.
Disney could end up with the two biggest movies of 2015, Contrino said -- with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” starring Harrison Ford, competing with “Age of Ultron” for best opening weekend of the year.
Paul Roeder, a spokesman for Burbank, California-based Disney, declined to comment on predictions for either “Avengers” or “Star Wars.”
Doug Creutz, an analyst at Cowen Group in San Francisco, said Disney’s second “Avengers” could do over $200 million in its opening weekend but that it might not in the end make Disney as much money as the first one. That “Avengers” garnered $1.5 billion globally, making it the biggest film of 2012. It cost $220 million to make, according to Box Office Mojo.
“It is unlikely ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ will be a more profitable film than the original, given that talent costs will have increased, but if it is it won’t be by a lot more,” Creutz said. “It doesn’t say anything about how Disney’s other films are going to do, such as ‘‘Ant-Man” and the Pixar movies. We all know Avengers will do well -- the swing factor is all the other films.’’
Marvel will introduce “Ant-Man,” one of its lesser known comic-book characters, on big screen on July 17. Disney’s Pixar unit will release “Inside Out” in June and “The Good Dinosaur” in November, its first releases since 2013.
There are two more “Avengers” on tap, scheduled for 2018 and 2019.