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‘Avengers: Infinity War’ !SPOILERS AHEAD

Look, you can call Avengers: Infinity War whatever you want — a juggernaut, a monolith, a thrill, a tease. But make sure you call it what it is: a box office behemoth the likes of which moviegoers have only seen a handful of times before. As we await the Friday box office estimates for the latest entry in the dynasty known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, consider this: Whether Infinity War scores the highest Friday gross/opening weekend of all time or merely the third- or fourth-highest, it remains utterly incomparable to the box office record breakers that have come before it.

In the decade since Robert Downey Jr. first graced screens as the whip-smart, wisecracking Tony Stark, the MCU has churned out 19 films starring nearly as many different heroes. Infinity War must somehow reconcile all of their story arcs in one (somewhat) tidy, two-and-a-half-hour package. It doesn’t just shoulder the burden of the Iron Man series, or the Captain America series, or even the first and second Avengers movies, which are the fifth- and seventh-highest worldwide grossers of all time, respectively. Infinity War wants to make good on the endless memestoting it as “the most ambitious crossover event in history.” Its receipts must be evaluated accordingly.

ts $39 million Thursday gross is easily the highest Thursday preview in the MCU (ahead of Avengers: Age of Ultron’s $27.6m), and fourth-highest of all time behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($57m in 2015), Star Wars: The Last Jedi ($45m in 2017) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 ($43.5m in 2011). Accordingly, people have already speculated endlessly whether Infinity War has the juice to fly past The Force Awakens’ record $247m opening weekend, or at least land somewhere between that and its sequel, The Last Jedi, which scored the second-best opening weekend with $220m. But Infinity War exists in an entirely different context than those big-budget space operas.

The Force Awakens opened 10 years after the last Star Wars film, Revenge of the Sith. It faced a decade’s worth of expectations from diehard fans, newcomers and old-heads alike, all of them curious whether it would live up to George Lucas’ original trilogy or sink even lower than the maligned prequels. The Force Awakens generated enough goodwill and sheer curiosity to propel its domestic total to $936m, by far the biggest domestic grosser of all time, not adjusted for inflation. In comparison, The Last Jedi’s performance seemed positively meek, closing its stateside run with $620m and generating an enormous chasm between rapturous critic reviews (91% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) and tepid fan feedback (a paltry 47% fresh).

Infinity War doesn’t follow a 10-year franchise drought; on the contrary, it’s the latest film in a series that has dominated the marketplace over the past decade. Its “newness” doesn’t factor into its box office performance so much as its epic scope. It also hasn’t proven nearly as polarizing as The Last Jedi, with 84% of critics and 93% of fans giving it positive marks on Rotten TomatoesInfinity War also doesn’t find itself in the unenviable position of being the second film in a planned threequel. Even with Avengers 4 on the horizon, Infinity War has billed itself as the end-all be-all superhero showdown, and that sense of finality will send moviegoers flocking to theaters whether they understand the MCU’s future blueprints or not.

And what about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2? The eighth and final installment in the epic fantasy series opened to a then-record $169m, including a massive $91m Friday, still the third-largest in history behind the last two Star Wars movies. It tumbled after its opening day and proved to be fairly front-loaded, ending its domestic run with $381m, which comes out to a 2.25x multiplier. But as an actual movie, Infinity War plays more like Deathly Hallows Part 1, amounting to a very expensive ramp-up to whatever happens in Avengers 4. Deathly Hallows Part 1opened to a much softer $125m and finished its run with $295m domestic. That’s a 2.36x multiplier and a respectable run for an ultimately filler movie.

It wouldn’t be a total surprise if Infinity War doubled Deathly Hallows Part 1’s first weekend and raked in $250m. But if that does happen, it should also prove far leggier, considering the last two Avengers films’ multipliers: 3.01x for The Avengers ($207m/$623m) and 2.4x for Ultron ($191m/$459m). And, as a person who attended almost every Potter midnight premiere, I can say with the utmost certainty that the excitement leading up to Infinity War far outstripped the hype for Deathly Hallows Part 1, if not Part 2. Again, this movie isn’t the culmination of one hero’s story, but an entire universe of heroes.

Looking at a few other similarly huge summer blockbusters, Infinity War still exists in an entirely unique context. There’s been talk of how it will compare to Jurassic World, which opened to $208m in 2015 and ultimately grossed $652m domestically, the fifth-highest unadjusted total of all time right above The Avengers. But again, Jurassic World picked up the franchise 14 years after Jurassic Park III, and it could stand on its own as a big, bad dino flick, whereas Infinity War comes with years of backstory and world-building. It could also play as a souped-up sequel to February’s obscenely successful Black Panther ($242m four-day weekend and a domestic cume of $683m and counting), but King T’Challa represents just one cog in the hulking (no pun intended) Avengers machine. Besides, Black Panther was such an unprecedented success that it’s hard to compare any movie to it, MCU or not.

No matter how Infinity War shakes out this weekend and beyond, it’s already clear that we’re dealing with a smash hit of epic proportions. It could set new records out of the gate, or it might settle for second or third place. But even if it doesn’t outperform its blockbuster brethren, it demands to be evaluated in a different context. Setting a new opening weekend record would be nice bragging rights for Marvel, but Infinity War serves a greater purpose than making a ton of money: to keep viewers engaged and eager for the next phase of the MCU. After all, even if the Avengers don’t obliterate the record books this summer, they’ll be back and vying for the prize in the near future.

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These are actual spoilers so do not read if you don’t want spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War.

Spoilers below all the asterisk spacers. 

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Hawkeye is not in the movie. Neither is Ant-Man. Clint is mentioned, but everyone’s favorite archer is much too busy playing tag to save the world.

Loki dies. He kind of had this coming for a long time. He doubled crossed Thanos in the first Avengers movie and even though he gives up the Space Stone (contained in the Tesseract) and tries to again trick Thanos, Thanos kills him. Thanos also fights the Hulk, but Hemidal sends Hulk to Earth in the nick of time. At this point, Thanos already has the Power Stone after apparently destroying Xandar.

Hulk doesn’t return. We see the Hulkbuster in the trailer, and that’s actually Bruce Banner in the suit. After his interaction with Thanos, he’s unable to turn back into the Hulk and joins the battle in Wakanda against Thanos’ forces in the Hulkbuster suit. There is a running joke throughout that Hulk, after getting beat down by Thanos, doesn’t want to come back out.

Stan Lee is a bus driver. Because what’s a Marvel movie without a Stan Lee cameo?

Gamora dies. Thanos, after obtaining the Reality Stone from The Collector (Thanos now has three stones), he separates the Guardians of the galaxy and takes Gamora. It should be noted that Thanos teleports all over the place throughout the movie, taking the action with him. He also has a couple sidekicks that take on individual Avengers to obtain stones. Thanos takes Gamora to his ship, where he is torturing Nebula. Eventually Gamora gives up the location of the Soul Stone. To retrieve it, Thanos has to sacrifice Gamora. She tries to kill herself but Thanos tosses her off a ledge on the Soul Stone planet and retrieves the stone. Four stones down, two to go.

Thor forges Stormbreaker. In the comic universe, Stormbreaker was originally created by Odin (with help from the Dwarves of Nidavellir) after Beta Ray Bill was found worthy of lifting Mjolnir. In the movie, Thor, Rocket and Groot visit a CGI dwarf played by Peter Dinklage to create the new hammer with a heart of a dying star. Thor does some things, gets burnt a bit and after Groot supplies the handle of the hammer, Thor has a new weapon to take on Thanos with.

Dr. Strange just gives Thanos the Time Stone.During the battle on Titan, in which Thanos again teleports to, Thanos almost loses the Infinity Gauntlet. Stark, Dr. Strange, the Guardians and Spider-Man (who spends a lot of time in space, thanks to a new suit from Stark) formulate a plan to separate Thanos from his Nintendo Power Glove. However, Star-Lord flips out when he learns of Gamora’s death and the plan is bonked. He beats the crap out of Iron Man and stabs Tony. In order to save him, Dr. Strange gives up the Time Stone because that seems totally logical. Spider-Man takes a whupping in this scene as well. Thanos now has five stones, making it look easy.

Vision dies. In order to hopefully prevent Thanos from getting the Mind Stone, the Scarlet Witch separates the Mind Stone from Vision, killing him in the process. Using the Time Stone, Thanos is able to go back to that moment, and snatches the Mind Stone. Before getting the stone, Thanos battles Captain America, who is defeated. For the moment, Steve seems to be alive but badly beaten. With that, Thanos now has all the Infinity Stones.

Stormbreaker doesn’t work. Arriving back on Earth, Thor is able to jab Thanos with Stormbreaker, thinking a nice sharp hammer through the gut should do the trick. Didn’t you learn anything from John Wick Thor? Always aim for the head. Thanos doesn’t die but instead snaps his massive fingers and disappears. He’s got to find Mikey and get that pirate treasure. No wait, he’s got to go fight Deadpool. No wait, he’s off to help The Collector take down drug cartels. Regardless, all seems lost.

Ash to ash, dust to dust. Spider-Man turns to ash in Tony’s arms, like the end of 30 Days of Night. We see Black Panther, Mantis, Drax, Bucky, Dr. Strange and Star-Lord all turn to ash. Almost everyone turns to freaking ash save for roughly half our heroes (if you are familiar with the comics, this 50/50 effect should be little surprise). Even Maria Hill and Nick Fury turn to ash in the after credits scene, as they watch the world around them turn to chaos. On Fury’s com screen, you do catch a glimpse of the Captain Marvel logo, so that might give a hint as the fate of our heroes. We know that in the comic world, rarely do characters ever stay dead. Even the assumed perma-deaths in this movie (Gamora, Loki, Vision) could be temporary.

The next films in the Marvel Universe will surely find a way to resolve this Asgardian sized cliffhanger (most likely to fully be resolved in Avengers 4). Based on the comics, I’m thinking Adam Warlock and the Guardians will play a part in bringing back reality. The mythos of the comics is pretty deep, but I’m almost sure the disappeared Avengers and friends are all trapped in some alternate death dimension and have to trick Thanos to get out. Nick Fury will probably just yell his way out. Though, for all we know, Ant-Man and Wasp could save everyone, since that’s the next film in the series.

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