NEW YORK — Thor: Ragnarok thundered to one of the year's best box-office debuts with an estimated $121 million domestically, again proving the Disney might.
The robust debut for the third Thor movie, starring Chris Hemsworth, was a welcome shot in the arm for Hollywood and theater owners who have just suffered through a terrible October. Thor: Ragnarok also bucked the trend of diminishing returns for sequels.
The 2011 Thor debuted with $65.7 million; 2013's Thor: The Dark World opened with $85.7 million.
"It's not often you see the second and third installments in the franchise outpacing the previous issue," says David Hollis, Disney's distribution chief. "You don't expect never-ending returns when it comes to sequels but it definitely speaks to the quality of the talent at Marvel and the way they're thinking about each film out of the gate."
Disney isn't alone in being able to roll out such blockbusters, but three of the year's five $100 million-plus opening weekends are theirs (the other two being Beauty and the Beast and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2).
The other new nationwide release, A Bad Moms Christmas, opened with $17 million for the weekend and $21.6 million since Wednesday, according to studio estimates Sunday. The holiday-themed sequel, which returns stars Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn, came in shy of the 2016 original's $23.8 million opening.
But the big story was Thor, which also grossed $151.4 million in its second week of international release. The film has made $427 million worldwide in 10 days.
Thor's big opening cements the unlikely breakthrough of New Zealand director Taika Waititi, who shepherded the $180 million production to Marvel's best reviews since 2008's Iron Man. The movie scored a 93% fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes and received an A grade from audiences at CinemaScore.
It's been feast or famine this year at the box office. August was historically dismal, September swung to record-breaking highs and October again badly slumped with the lowest overall gross in a decade. The year is running down 4.8% from last year's record pace, according to comScore.
Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore, expects to November will swing back up, thanks to Thor and the upcoming Justice League and Coco.
"It's like a tennis match. We're up. We're down. It's not for the faint of heart," Dergarabedian says. "The industry has its work cut out for it as we hit the home stretch of what has been an incredibly volatile box-office year."
Rounding out the rest of the top five: Jigsaw, the latest installment in the Saw horror franchise, finished third with $6.7 million; Tyler Perry's Boo 2! Madea Halloween was fourth with $4.7 million; and Gerard Butler disaster epic Geostorm finished fifth with $3 million.
Several films opened in limited release, including Greta Gerwig's coming-of-age tale Lady Bird, with Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf. On four screens, it drew some of the most packed theaters of the year with a $93,900 per-screen average.
Rob Reiner's LBJ, with Woody Harrelson, debuted with $1.1 million in 659 theaters. Richard Linklater's Last Flag Flying, with Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell and Laurence Fishburne, brought in a per-screen average of $10,500 in four theaters.
Final numbers are expected Monday.