'Avengers: Age of Ultron' powers into uncharted territory at box office

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Advance sales for "Avengers: The Age of Ultron" are equal to those of all the other Marvel Studios movies combined, online ticket broker Fandango reported Tuesday.

So, we can figure it will take in around $1 billion - the combined total of the opening hauls of the 10 previous Disney-Marvel releases - when it opens in a saturation-level 4,247 theaters in North America on Friday, right?

No, of course we can't. Fandango knows that and took pains to qualify the stratospheric sales figures, pointing to its growth and the rise in popularity of advance ticketing, as reasons for the huge number. But when legitimate data becomes this outsized, it can be extrapolated beyond the outer reaches of reality. And "Age of Ultron" is generating a lot of that.

Hollywood's hyperbolic calculations are understandable, however, because "Age of Ultron" has taken us into uncharted box office territory. There are no "comps," with exception of "The Avengers," the original superhero blockbuster mash-up from 2012.

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'Avengers: Age of Ultron' powers into uncharted territory at box office
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON 2015 Marvel film with Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON 2015 Marvel film with Chris Evans at left and Chris Hemsworth
Jeremy Renner arrives at a special screening of Marvel's "Avengers: Age of Ultron" at the SVA Theatre on Tuesday, April, 28, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 24: Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. pictured on Good Morning America as the cast of Avengers: Age Of Ultron invade Times Square in New York City on April 24, 2015. Credit: RW/MediaPunch/IPX
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 24: Robert Downey Jr. pictured on Good Morning America as the cast of Avengers: Age Of Ultron invade Times Square in New York City on April 24, 2015. Credit: RW/MediaPunch/IPX
Jeremy Renner greets Scarlett Johansson upon arrival at the premiere for the film 'The Avengers Age of Ultron' in London, Tuesday, 21 April, 2015. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)
Chris Hemsworth poses for photographers upon arrival at the premiere for the film 'The Avengers Age of Ultron' in London, Tuesday, 21 April, 2015. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)
Scarlett Johansson poses for photographers upon arrival at the premiere for the film 'The Avengers Age of Ultron' in London, Tuesday, 21 April, 2015. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)
Jeremy Renner greets photographers upon arrival at the premiere for the film 'The Avengers Age of Ultron' in London, Tuesday, 21 April, 2015. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)
Chris Hemsworth poses with a young child dressed as the character Thor at the premiere for the film 'The Avengers Age of Ultron' in London, Tuesday, 21 April, 2015. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)
Director Joss Whedon poses for photographers upon arrival at the premiere for the film 'The Avengers Age of Ultron' in London, Tuesday, 21 April, 2015. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)
Stan Lee arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of "Avengers: Age Of Ultron" at the Dolby Theatre on Monday, April 13, 2015. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)
LaTanya Richardson Jackson, left, and Samuel L. Jackson arrive at the Los Angeles premiere of "Avengers: Age Of Ultron" at the Dolby Theatre on Monday, April 13, 2015. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)
Chris Evans arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of "Avengers: Age Of Ultron" at the Dolby Theatre on Monday, April 13, 2015. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 27: Actor Robert Downey, Jr. (L) and Jeremy Renner Join Marvel Entertainment Executives Ring The NYSE Opening Bell In Celebration Of 'Marvel's Avengers: Age Of Ultron' at New York Stock Exchange on April 27, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 24: (R-L) Avengers Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chris Evans (Captain America), Mark Ruffalo (The Hulk) and Jeremy Renner (Hawk Eye) takeover Time Square on Good Morning America, April 24, 2015 in support of Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron, in theaters Friday, May 1. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Walt Disney Studios)
Actor Mark Ruffalo attends a special screening of Marvel's "Avengers: Age of Ultron" at the SVA Theatre on Tuesday, April, 28, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson and wife Sam Taylor-Johnson attend a special screening of Marvel's "Avengers: Age of Ultron" at the SVA Theatre on Tuesday, April, 28, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
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"We're operating in a space where really precise predictions are an impossibility," Disney's President of Distribution Dave Hollis told TheWrap Tuesday.

But that hasn't stopped us from trying.

"This movie will be the biggest movie ever. The first one opened at $207 million, and we expect this one to be even bigger and open near $240 million," said Jaime Brugueras, vice president of analytics at Networked Insights in an interview with Motley Fool.

He based his projection on the online buzz surrounding "Age of Ultron." The social media mentions for its trailers are more than double those of "The Avengers," "Dark Knight Rises" or any other superhero movie. As of Monday, it had 13.6 million Facebook "likes" compared to the 1.3 million that "The Avengers" had four days before its opening.

Online sales are through the roof at MovieTickets.com as well, with "Age of Ultron" tickets sold quadrupling those for "The Avengers."

Traditional tracking services have it debuting between $195 million and $200 million. No film has ever tracked that high. And "The Avengers" was at $160 million just before it debuted.

Whether it matters isn't clear, but the critics are largely sold. With 96 reviews in, "Ultron" is at 74 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes, not quite as good as 92 of "The Avengers." That, and a crowded weekend sports schedule with the Kentucky Derby and big boxing match Saturday night are the only negative factors that we can find.

"But there was a big pay-per-view fight when 'The Avengers' opened," recalled Hollis.

You couldn't ask for more momentum than was provided by last weekend's $201 million overseas opening, which was a whopping 44 percent better than "The Avengers" did in the same markets. But if we apply that growth percentage to the original's domestic debut, doesn't "Ultron" open at around $300 million?

It does, but "Ultron" - which added another $19 million from abroad on Monday - certainly won't do that much. It couldn't, right?

"A couple months out, I didn't think there was that much growth left," said Exhibitor Relations senior analyst Jeff Bock. "But Marvel has defied expectations - blown the roof off them, actually - every chance it's had. I'd say up to $250 million is definitely possible, as crazy as that seems."

BoxOffice.com senior analyst Phil Contrino is sticking with $216 million as his projection, and that's where a number of other analysts see it landing.

What's clear is that no one really knows. But we do know some things about the weekend.

"Avengers: Age of Ultron" will become the 11th consecutive film from Marvel Studios to debut at No. 1. The other studios have cleared out and it will be the only wide release on the first weekend of Hollywood's summer season in a box-office year expected to be the biggest in Hollywood history.

Joss Whedon returns as writer and director for "Age of Ultron," as does the ensemble cast topped by Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Mark Ruffalo (the Hulk), Chris Evans (Captain America), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) and Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye).

Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen join the cast as Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Don Cheadle, James Spader and Samuel Jackson co-star in "Age of Ultron," in which Earth's mightiest heroes take on the eponymous Tony Stark artificial intelligence program gone rogue.

Kevin Feige, Marvel's president and the architect of its sprawling "cinematic universe," is the producer of the $250 million "Age of Ultron." The legendary Stan Lee, Jon Favreau, Alan Fine, Victoria Alonso, Louis D'Esposito and Jeremy Latcham are executive producers.

If you think you know how big "Avengers: The Age of Ultron" will debut this weekend, let us know in the comments. Because your guess is as good as anyone's.

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