Thor proved a god among fall's mortal films, though he pales in comparison to the men of steel, iron, bats and spiders.
Thor: The Dark World thundered to an easy win at theaters this weekend, collecting $86.1 million, according to studio estimates from box-office trackers Rentrak.
The debut fell slightly short of analysts' expectations but ahead of Disney's projections. Forecasters expected at least $90 million from the superhero sequel.
While the debut didn't rank among the instant-blockbuster openings of previous installments of comic-book heroes including Batman, Superman, Iron Man and Spider-Man, all of which bowed to more than $100 million, Thor's reign over theaters remains impressive, analysts say.
"Consider that Thor was largely an unknown character prior to 2011," when the first film soared to $181 million, says David Mumpower of Boxofficeprophets.com.
Before that, he says, "only fans of Marvel comics or Norse mythology were even marginally aware of him," he says. "Fast-forward only two years and Thor is now capable of a (No. 1) opening weekend in North America."
Fans and critics gave the $170 million film hammers-up. About two-thirds of reviewers recommended the movie, says Rottentomatoes.com, while CinemaScore says the Chris Hemsworth thriller scored an A-minus among moviegoers.
Ray Subers of Box Office Mojo says Thor benefited from "The Avengers effect."
"The Avengers was viewed and liked by such a wide audience ($623 million last year) that its characters' subsequent solo outings receive a boost in sales," he says. "This was in effect for Iron Man 3," which opened to $174 million in May.
Thor claimed the fourth-largest debut of the year, behind Iron Man 3, Man of Steel ($116 million) and Fast & Furious 6 ($97 million).
No major newcomer challenged Thor this weekend. The comedy Bad Grandpa took second place with $11.3 million, bringing the $15 million Jackass series installment to a hefty $78.7 million.
The animated comedy Free Birds took third with $11.2 million, while Last Vegas, the senior citizens' Hangover starring Robert De Niro and Morgan Freeman, also continues its strong run, taking fourth place with $11.1 million and lifting its overall gross to $33.5 million.
The sci-fi fantasy Ender's Game was fifth with $10.3 million.
Final figures are expected Monday.