(USA TODAY) Captain America: The Winter Soldier sprang to the largest April debut on record, decimating box-office competition and giving the first weekend of April a summer-like jolt.
Soldier thundered to $96.2 million, according to studio estimates from Rentrak.
The debut met most analysts' lofty expectations and claimed the crown for biggest opening in April, eclipsing 2011's Fast Five, which bowed to $86 million in the last weekend of the month, typically Hollywood's unofficial opening weekend of summer.
"Disney ran another Marvel movie up the flagpole," says David Mumpower, analyst forBox Office Prophets. "And the entirety of North America saluted."
Maybe not the entirety, but much of it. The debut helped the industry keep its torrid ticket-sales pace, which is running about 10% ahead of sales through the same period last year.
Ray Subers, analyst for Box Office Mojo, says that Captain America is the latest superhero to thrive in the wake of the 2012 comic-book ensemble The Avengers, which collected $623 million in 2012.
Subers says that Soldier, like last year's Thor: The Dark World ($206 million) andIron Man 3 ($409 million) were seen as continuing tales of the all-star team, not sequels to their individual stories.
"The performance ... indicates that the 'Avengers bump' is a real thing," Subers says.
Critics helped with the bump. About 89% of reviewers recommended the film, while 95% of fans said they enjoyed it, says Rotten Tomatoes. The film earned an A from audiences, according to online pollsters CinemaScore.
Subers says the critical and commercial reception propels Captain America to "the superhero A-list alongside Batman, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Superman and the X-Men."
The elite status didn't leave much room for foes at theaters. No other major film opened against Soldier, which made quick work of holdovers.
The biblical tale Noah was second with $17 million, bringing its 10-day total to $72.3 million.
The teen fantasy adaptation Divergent captured third with $13 million, followed byGod's Not Dead with $7.7 million.
The comedy The Grand Budapest Hotel rounded out the top five with $6.3 million. Final figures are due Monday.
Soldier delivered "something that neither of the two most recent blockbusters,Divergent and Noah, could claim: It is the first true action blockbuster of 2014," Mumpower says. "Consider this movie mission accomplished."