Well, folks, Box Office Mojo reports that The Avengers smashed the last Harry Potter movie's weekend opening record in the US, with an estimated $200,300,000. Edit: After its initial estimate Box Office Mojo has since edited its story with an even higher figure of $207,400,000.
I was predicting that it would set a new record (before the weekend started, I predicted $172 million, compared with the Harry Potter $169 million), but even I was too conservative. The Avengers is also performing incredibly well outside of the US, so it is on its way to becoming one of the most commercially successful movies of any kind of all time.
I have my complaints about the movie - a certain amount of looseness and self-indulgence, a certain lack of suspense and felt danger - but it's obviously doing something right, or more than one "something".
One of the somethings that it's doing right is giving superb, loving interpretations of all the main characters. I think, too, that the actual choice of an Avengers roster was inspired. We've now seen that Hawkeye can be made a cool character and we've certainly been shown how much depth and potential The Black Widow had - and it's been exploited brilliantly in the movie, as she is made to shine throughout The Avengers; there's no sense here that Natasha Romanoff is overshadowed by, or of secondary importance to, the male heroes.
I'm not the first to observe (though I'm not sure who was!) that she's the breakout character of this movie. She could now become Marvel's most iconic female character, and a much more important player in the Marvel Universe more generally. Expect The Black Widow to turn up all over the place now.
This does raise the question of whether Marvel has other female characters who could succeed so well on the big screen. It's still the case that there are five male Avengers to one female Avenger in the movie, and even when you add in Nick Fury, Maria Hill, and Agent Coulson from S.H.I.E.L.D., you have a very male-heavy cast of heroes. Over in the other cinematic versions of Marvel franchises, the gender balance is a little bit healthier - well, it is in the X-Men movies (which are made by a different studio: in this case, Fox). But for various reasons that we could go into, the X-Men movies have not boosted the female characters in the popular imagination the way they have Wolverine, Magneto, and Professor X. I'm hoping that Scarlett Johansson's ass-kicking version of The Black Widow might start to change things.