Thor proved a god among fall's mortal films, though he pales in comparison to the men of steel, iron, bats and spiders.
Thor: The Dark World thundered to an easy win at theaters this weekend, collecting $86.1 million, according to studio estimates from box-office trackers Rentrak.
The debut fell slightly short of analysts' expectations but ahead of Disney's projections. Forecasters expected at least $90 million from the superhero sequel.
While the debut didn't rank among the instant-blockbuster openings of previous installments of comic-book heroes including Batman, Superman, Iron Man and Spider-Man, all of which bowed to more than $100 million, Thor's reign over theaters remains impressive, analysts say.
"Consider that Thor was largely an unknown character prior to 2011," when the first film soared to $181 million, says David Mumpower of Boxofficeprophets.com.
USA Entertainment Now host Carly Mallenbaum talks with Brian Truitt about Marvel’s most popular villain, Loki. Tom Hiddleston stars as the charismatic bad guy in ‘Thor: The Dark World,’ out this weekend. For more: comics.usatoday.com (USA Entertainment Now, USA TODAY)
Before that, he says, "only fans of Marvel comics or Norse mythology were even marginally aware of him," he says. "Fast-forward only two years and Thor is now capable of a (No. 1) opening weekend in North America."
Fans and critics gave the $170 million film hammers-up. About two-thirds of reviewers recommended the movie, saysRottentomatoes.com, while CinemaScore says the Chris Hemsworth thriller scored an A-minus among moviegoers.
Ray Subers of Box Office Mojo says Thor benefited from "The Avengers effect."
'Thor: The Dark World' may be Marvel's best sequel yet. It opens as Oscar buzz-worthy '12 Years a Slave' expands to theaters everywhere. VPC
"The Avengers was viewed and liked by such a wide audience ($623 million last year) that its characters' subsequent solo outings receive a boost in sales," he says. "This was in effect for Iron Man 3," which opened to $174 million in May.
Thor claimed the fourth-largest debut of the year, behind Iron Man 3, Man of Steel ($116 million) and Fast & Furious 6 ($97 million).
No major newcomer challenged Thor this weekend. The comedy Bad Grandpa took second place with $11.3 million, bringing the $15 million Jackass series installment to a hefty $78.7 million.
The animated comedy Free Birds took third with $11.2 million, while Last Vegas, the senior citizens' Hangover starring Robert De Niro and Morgan Freeman, also continues its strong run, taking fourth place with $11.1 million and lifting its overall gross to $33.5 million.
The sci-fi fantasy Ender's Game was fifth with $10.3 million.
Final figures are expected Monday.