Box Office Report: Moviegoers Salute 'Captain America,' Which Notches a $26 Million First-Day Score

© Paramount Pictures

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2" settles into second place after its record-breaking bow, while "Friends with Benefits" is a solid third.

Moviegoers in North America welcomed a new superhero Friday as Captain America: The First Avenger opened to an estimated $25.8 million. That number includes the $4 million from the midnight screenings where the movie initially staked its claim. And it puts Captain America's opening in the same neighborhood as May’s Thor, the last Marvel supermovie to hit theaters.

STORY: 'Captain America: The First Avenger:' What Critics Say About Chris Evans

The crowds having rushed en masse to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 last weekend,  the final installment in the wizardly series settled down to earth, beginning its second weekend in theaters with $14.6 million, enough to bring its cumulative domestic haul to date to a whopping $240.7 million.

STORY: 'Captain America: The First Avenger' Earns $4 Million in Midnight Showings

Friends with Benefits, the weekend’s other new wide release, found an audience that preferred R-rated sex comedy to both superheroes and wizards. The Sony/Screen Gems release, directed by Will Gluck and starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, collected $6.8 million.

 In the midst of a summer full of superheroes, Captain America proved there is still room for one more. The latest film from the sure-footed Marvel Studios, the Paramount release, directed by Joe Johnston and starring Chris Evans as Steve Rogers, an unassuming guy who is transformed into a super-hero to take on Hitler’s henchman Red Skull, played by Hugo Weaving, posted the best midnight opening among the summer’s other superhero outings  -- Thor, X-Men: First Class and Green Lantern.

Moviegoers rewarded the new movie with an A- Cinema Score, a bigger thumbs-up than they awarded Thor, which earned a B+. While both movies tilted male (Thor at 62 percent and Captain at 65 percent), Captain drew a significantly younger audience despite its Greater Generation World War II setting. Forty-three percent of its audience was under 25, compared to the 28-percent-under-25 that Thor attracted.

The PG-13-rated movie opened in 3,700 locations -- 2,500 of which offered the film in 3D.

While Paramount was originally predicting that Captain America would debut with an opening weekend about midway between X-Men’s $55.1 million and Thor’s $65 million,  its opening, on a par with the $25.5 million that Thor registered on its first day back in May, should help its weekend performance equal or slightly exceed that of Thor.

Potter, whose opening weekend was fueled by huge want-to-see for the final film in the series, is coming down to earth this weekend, but the Warners release is still looking at a three-day figure in the upper $40 million range as its domestic ten-day gross approaches $275 million.

As for Friends, which set up shop in 2,925 locations, the real suspense this weekend won’t be whether its two protagonists fall in love, but how its opening will compare to the similarly-themed No Strings Attached, starring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman, which Paramount and Spyglass, released in January. That comedy opened to $7.3 million, slightly more than Friends, and went on to a $19.7 million weekend.

With the newcomers crowding theaters, Warner/New Line’s R-rated comedy Horrible Bosses hung on in fourth place as it picked up an additional $3.7 million as it entered its third weekend.  Its domestic tally now stands at $74.4 million. 

Paramount’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon ranked fifth with another $3.5  million that brought its domestic total to $317.2 million.

And Sony’s Zookeeper took in $2.9 million, brining its domestic purse to $53.4 million.


Twitter: @gkilday