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    The Avengers Downs The Dark Knight at Midnight!

    Avengers Marvel/Disney Enterprises

    The Avengers is the superhero world's new box-office king—or, at least it is at midnight.

    In 12 a.m. Friday screenings, the mega-Marvel movie grossed $18.7 million, according to its studio, a new high for the genre.

    To recap: The Dark Knight just got beat. 

    MIDNIGHT-SCREENING SCENE: Guess which Avenger won over the audience?

    The Avengers' take is Hollywood's eighth-biggest ever for a midnight debut.

    The night-owl gross helped push the film, teaming Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man with a half-dozen other Marvel heroes, past the $300 million mark worldwide.

    The midnight opening is a box-office category that's very nearly been the exclusive domain of films based on young-adult best-sellers, from Harry Potter to Twilight to The Hunger Games, which narrowly retains its edge as the year's biggest 12 a.m. movie.

    The previous best for a superhero movie was The Dark Knight's then-record $18.5 million.

    The Avengers bested The Dark Knight with the help of 3-D ticket prices, as well as 2012-priced 2-D and IMAX ones. The 3-D format also aided The Avengers in closing the gap in sold-out screenings with The Hunger Games, which has been shown only in 2-D and IMAX.  

    With the midnight superhero record in its pocket, The Avengers will next set its sights on the Batman epic's opening-weekend mark of $158.4 million, the second-biggest of all time. The Hunger Games is right there in third place with a $152.5 million debut.

    "The key will be Saturday's number," Hollywood.com box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian said.

    The Avengers has widely been expected to gross about $150 million domestically by Sunday.   

    Here's a complete rundown of the top 10 all-time midnight debuts, as compiled per Hollywood.com stats:

    1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, $43.5 million
    2. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 1, $30.3 million
    3. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, $30 million
    4. The Twilight Saga: New Moon, $26.3 million
    5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, $24 million
    6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, $22.2 million
    7. The Hunger Games, $19.7 million
    8. The Avengers, $18.7 million
    9. The Dark Knight, $18.5 million
    10. Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith, $16.9 million

    (Originally published at 9:38 a.m. PT on May 4, 2012.)

    PHOTOS: 2012 Summer Movie Guide: Spooky Stuff

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