Marvel Studios and Disney’s superhero mash-up pulled of the most emphatic summer kick-off imaginable in North America, breaching the $200m threshold in a whopping three days and earning ecstatic reviews from the critics.

Joss Whedon directed Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston and Samuel Jackson — a potent combination that proved to be unstoppable and will take some beating from the heavyweight summer contenders that line up in the wings.

As the film pulled off another mighty international weekend, grossing $151.5m for a $441.5m running total, the worldwide tally reached $641.8m. A final worldwide tally of more than $1bn seems well within the film’s grasp.

The film grossed more than $15m on 275 IMAX-only digital screens, tying with the Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 for the record. Such was the demand for the large-screen experience, IMAX Corp said it ran out of seats. The global tally through Sunday was projected at $31.2m.

It remains to be seen whether the actual results issued on Monday will keep this stunning opening salvo above $200m, but The Avengers’ place at the top of the all-time pantheon would seem secure, given that the previous best mark was $169.2m set by Warner Bros’ Harry Potter finale last summer.

The Avengers was so far ahead of the competition that the next best release, Screen Gems’ doughty Think Like A Man, grossed $8m in its third weekend to push the running total to $73m.

Sony/Aardman’s The Pirates! Band Of Misfits slipped three places to number five in the second weekend on $5.4m for $18.6m.

Fox Searchlight opened The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – an international smash that has been particularly strong in the UK – at number 14 on $750,000 from 27 sites for an excellent $27,778 per-site average.

Next weekend’s wide release is Warner Bros’ comedy Dark Shadows which reunites Johnny Depp with director Tim Burton and also stars Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer and Chloe Moretz.

Estimated Top 10 North America May 4-6 2012
Film (Dist) / Est wkd gross / Est total to date

1 (-) The Avengers (Buena Vista) WDSMPI $200.3m

2 (1) Think Like A Man (Screen Gems) SPRI $8m $73m

3 (3) The Hunger Games (Lionsgate) Lionsgate $5.7m $380.7m

4 (4) The Lucky One (Warner Bros) WBPI $5.5m $47.9m

5 (2) The Pirates: Band Of Misfits (Sony) SPRI $5.4m $18.6m

6 (5) The Five-Year Engagement (Universal) UPI $5.1m $19.2m

7 (7) The Raven (Relativity) Relativity/FilmNation $2.51m $12m

8 (6) Safe (Lionsgate) IM Global $2.47m $12.9m   

9 (8) Chimpanzee (Buena Vista) WDSMPI $2.4m $23m

10 (9) The Three Stooges (Fox) Fox Int’l $1.8m $39.6m