Thor: Ragnarok hits theatres with a thunderclap

Chris Hemsworth stars as Thor in Thor: Ragnarok.
Chris Hemsworth stars as Thor in Thor: Ragnarok. PHOTO: DISNEY

LOS ANGELES (NYTIMES) - After a four-month absence from theatres, Walt Disney Studios returned over the weekend, releasing Thor: Ragnarok to blockbuster results and teaching rival studios a lesson about how to approach sequels to sequels.

Thor: Ragnarok, the latest film from Disney-owned Marvel Studios, took in an estimated US$121 million (S$165.1 million) on 4,080 screens in North America over the weekend. That total was colossal even by superhero standards - about 42 per cent higher than opening-weekend results for Doctor Strange, released last fall, and 3 per cent higher than what Spider-Man: Homecoming initially managed over the summer.

Directed by Taika Waititi, an eccentric New Zealand film-maker whose previous three movies played in art houses and collected a grand total of US$9.5 million, Thor: Ragnarok has taken in an additional US$306 million overseas, Disney said Sunday (Nov 5).

The film, starring Chris Hemsworth and Cate Blanchett, cost an estimated US$180 million to make, not including at least US$100 million in marketing costs.

Interest in Thor: Ragnarok has been sizzling since Disney released a teaser trailer in April.

In early September, an informal moviegoer poll conducted by Fandango, the online ticket seller, found that Waititi's film was the most anticipated offering of the fall - a surprise to Hollywood, which had expected Justice League, produced by Warner Bros. and set for Nov 17 release, to easily dominate. (It was second.)

At first, few had been crying out for another Thor sequel. Marvel's second stand-alone film about the character, Thor: The Dark World, took in US$645 million worldwide in 2013.

But critics were lukewarm, the production had been marked by behind-the-scenes creative clashes and one star, Natalie Portman, did not want to return.

Instead of taking the usual route with third chapters in successful Hollywood franchises - Who cares about making a good movie? Take the money and run! - Marvel's movie chief Kevin Feige decided to radically retool the Thor series.

With input from Hemsworth, Thor: Ragnarok became less self-serious and much more comedic, leaning into the absurdity of the main character, a beefcake god who carries a magic hammer and travels by rainbow.

Blanchett was cast as a campy villain, Hela, who sprouts antlers when she's mad. And Waititi was allowed to run wild, backing outer-space action sequences involving a marauding Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) with Immigrant Song, Led Zeppelin's heavy-metal anthem from 1970.

Most critics responded with euphoric reviews. Ticket buyers gave Thor: Ragnarok an A grade in CinemaScore exit polls.

Second place for the weekend went to the sequel A Bad Moms Christmas, which took in about US$17 million, for a total since arriving on Wednesday of US$21.6 million, according to comScore, which compiles box office data.

An R-rated comedy from STXfilms, A Bad Moms Christmas received weaker reviews than its series predecessor, Bad Moms, which took in US$30.6 million over its first five days in summer 2016.

A Bad Moms Christmas received a B grade in CinemaScore exit polls. The first movie, which became an unexpected hit, got an A.

STXfilms, a division of STX Entertainment, spent a modest US$28 million to produce A Bad Moms Christmas and backed its release with marketing stunts, including a takeover of the daytime game show The Price Is Right.

The studio noted that the holiday film took in an additional US$6.7 million in partial release overseas, with initial results in countries like Britain and Australia higher than for Bad Moms.