The Avengers: Marvel Studios’ First Billion Dollar Blockbuster Opened 8 Years Ago Tonight

The Avengers assembled the heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the first time when the Marvel Studios blockbuster opened for Thursday night previews exactly eight years ago on May 3, 2012. Uniting Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) against Asgardian demigod Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and an invading alien army, the super team put together by super-spy Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) was the culmination of Phase One of the MCU, consisting of 2008's Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, 2010's Iron Man 2, and 2011's Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger.

Earning $18.7 million in opening night previews before setting the then record for biggest three-day domestic opening at $200.3 million, the Joss Whedon-directed Avengers went on to become the first Marvel Studios movie to bypass the billion dollar milestone with $1.51 billion globally — at the time the highest-grossing superhero movie in history.

The blockbuster spawned three direct sequels — 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron, also written and directed by Whedon, followed by 2018's Anthony and Joe Russo-directed Avengers: Infinity War and 2019's Avengers: Endgame — with the star-studded Endgame, assembling every franchise from the now 23-movie MCU, unseating James Cameron's Avatar to become the highest-grossing film of all time at $2.79 billion worldwide.

"Marvel's The Avengers is something we've been carefully building toward since we began production on the first Iron Man film, and it is quite rewarding for all of us that The Avengers is appealing around the globe to both passionate fans and general audiences alike," Marvel Studios president and producer Kevin Feige said in the wake of The Avengers’ record-breaking opening weekend at the box office in 2012.

One of the movie's standout sequences — where the six founding Avengers stand united for the first time against the Chitauri army sent by Thanos, who made his first appearance in a credits tag — was revisited in Endgame, where Earth's mightiest heroes travel back through time to collect the six Infinity Stones needed to undo Thanos' (Josh Brolin) snap that eliminated half of all life in the universe at the close of Infinity War.

Marvel started working towards assembling the Avengers when S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury stepped from the shadows in the post-credits scene trailing Iron Man, telling Tony Stark, "You think you're the only superhero in the world? Mr. Stark, you've become part of a bigger universe. You just don't know it yet."

Ahead of the release of Marvel’s first blockbuster, Feige and the Iron Man team attended San Diego Comic-Con in 2006, before the then-independent studio had concrete plans for what would become their ambitious superhero crossover:

"I think that panel in a large part was to say that Marvel's making movies themselves now, and here's the information we have at this point. My favorite part of that is when somebody asked: 'Is The Avengers ever possible?' We had no real plans at that point," Feige recalled in a 2017 interview with Vanity Fair. "It was a pipe dream. So much of what we've done is based on a pipe dream."

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Iron Man celebrated its 12-year anniversary after opening in theaters for previews on May 1, 2008, launching the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Marvel's The Avengers and other Marvel Studios movies are available to stream on Disney+.

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