UPDATED: THOR Finishes the Weekend No. 1 with $66 Million

New THOR Teaser Clip

Update, Sunday: Falling right with expectations, Box Office Mojo is reporting Thor is estimated to finish the weekend with $66 million, for a first-place finish. This is behind the opening weekends of last year's Iron Man 2 ($128 million) and 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine ($85 million), but both of those movies had the advantage of being sequels. Thor's performance is the third-best debut for the first film in a Marvel franchise (behind Spider-Man, $114.8 million in 2002; and Iron Man, $98.6 million in 2008).

This brings Thor's current worldwide total to $242 million. Actual grosses for the weekend are expected Monday afternoon. — Albert Ching

Update, Saturday: As expected, Thor was No. 1 in Friday box office, bringing in $25.7 million. According to tracking site Box Office Mojo, this puts the film on target for an opening weeking in the mid-$60s. That would put it below fellow Marvel Studios productions Iron Man and Iron Man 2, but above 2008's Incredible Hulk. A comparable performer would be 2010's Clash of the Titans, which opened at $61 million and ended with a worldwide take of $493 million. Thor has already grossed $133 million in foreign box office.

We'll update again when weekend estimates come in. — Albert Ching

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Original Story: Armed with mostly positive reviews and growing word of mouth, Thor drops into theaters today ready to do big business.

But exactly how much box-office gold will line Thunder Road?

“The first weekend in May is a good weekend for movies,” noted Paul Dergarabedian, Hollywood.com’s box office analyst. “I think it’s going to open really well, but beyond that, who knows?”

"[Thor] should get a decent turnout opening weekend, with many people shelling out extra for 3D and IMAX,” says Coming Soon’s Ed Douglas, who writes the weekly box office column The Weekend Warrior. ”...But expecting an opening like X-Men Origins: Wolverine ($85 million in 2009) or last week's “Fast Five” ($83.5M) is doubtful because it doesn't have the sequel factor."

Predictions for “Thor's” weekend debut peg the film somewhere in between the Hulk films and lagging comfortably behind Wolverine. Entertainment Weekly predicts $69 million; Box Office Guru thinks it could clock in with a total as high as $72M when all the tickets are tallied. Douglas projects a $68.5M debut for Marvel’s resident Thunder God. The movie opened at midnight on Thursday with $3.25M, according to Deadline.com, a figure that puts it right on track for a high-$60M opening weekend.

The fact that Thor is generating strong advance buzz has many people trying to draw parallels to the breakout success of Iron Man. It’s no secret how  a Kismet-ic combination of Comic-Con buzz building, dynamic storytelling and Robert Downey Jr. turned an adaptation of a hero largely unknown outside comic shops into a $98 million debut weekend. Iron Man went on to earn $585 million worldwide and turned Marvel Studios into an instant Hollywood power player.

Barring a miracle or an intervention by Odin himself, Thor won’t approach the opening numbers that Iron Man or even X-Men Origins: Wolverine earned. Those films, while not the across-the-board phenoms that The Dark Knight or Spider-Man 3 were, had many factors going for it that Thor simply doesn’t have, not least of which is a famous actor on the poster.

Marvel’s hierarchy, a savvy group led by mastermind Kevin Feige, no doubt know this. It seems reasonable to assume they would be quite happy to wake up Monday with a higher number than the $62M debut of 2003’s Hulk(which incidentally, outdrew by $7M the 2008 reboot The Incredible Hulk).

What Thor does have going for it is a nimbly-paced movie that, despite its Nine Realms surroundings and gods, frost giants and magical metal robots, is relatively straightforward. You don't need to read Walt Simonson's Thor Omnibus to follow what's going on. That, plus a solid cast that features Natalie Portman, has helped generate strong advance word.

As for the 'name-brand' appeal, previous history indicates it's a flawed argument.  Daredevil and Ghost Rider all had strong opening weekends AND cleared $100 million in total domestic earnings, despite having much lower profiles than Superman, Batman or Spidey. And the two Iron Man films have given most folks enough of an introduction into the Marvel movie universe to figure out what’s going on.

"People already know what Marvel can do and [this] movie looks like it continues the tone of Iron Man, which is what people want," noted Douglas.

And while he may not be Robert Downey Jr. - and really, that’s a standard most actors would come up short against  -- Chris Hemsworth does bring something to the party RDJ doesn’t: sizzle.

Hemsworth has the look that could be the bait that hooks the white whale every studio with a superhero project wants to reel in: The female audience.

Douglas however, thinks the film's long-term hopes for success lie not with Hemsworth's physique or with his onscreen relationship with co-star Natalie Portman, but with good old fashioned word of mouth.

"I don't think Portman is enough, as seen by the performance of Your Highness, Douglas said. “They'll need to find some other reason and for most people, it will be waiting until Monday and hearing what coworkers or classmates have to say about the movie."

This isn't just about Thor, either. This is about ramping up momentum for Captain America: The First Avenger in July, and next year for The Avengers. While the signs seem to be pointing toward a solid debut, especially on the international front, where the picture has already earned $124M as of Thursday, Kenneth Branagh's fantasy adventure is carrying expectations heavier than Mjolnir.

Box office watchers disagree on what kind of impact a lackluster performance by Thor will have on The Avengers, Marvel’s all-in, onscreen superhero convention that’s shaping up to be one of the most ambitious movies ever.

"If Thor completely bombs (and making less than $60 million will be considered a bomb) then the press is going to spin it negatively, saying that Marvel Studios has lost their luster," warned Douglas.

Dergarabedian agrees, to a point.

“Conventional wisdom would suggest if the first 2 don’t do well, then The Avengers won’t. I don’t necessarily agree with that,” he said.

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