LOS ANGELES, April 24 (Reuters) - Marvel superhero movie "Avengers: Infinity War" earned impressive reviews on Tuesday ahead of what is expected to be one of the biggest box office opening weekends on record.
Critics largely praised the Walt Disney Co. film for its ambition, scale and wit in assembling more than 20 Marvel comic book heroes, and for a jaw-dropping ending that seems designed to get audiences hooked for another installment next year.
"Marvel hits the jackpot again," said The Hollywood Reporter, while USA Today loved its "unexpected returns, true surprises, real sacrifices and a cliffhanger ending that’s going to freak fans to their superhero-loving core."
Box office analysts say "Infinity War" could come close to, or even break, the $248 million North American opening weekend record set in 2015 by "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," also from Disney.
Barton Crockett, media industry analyst at B. Riley FBR, predicted a $238 million weekend debut for the film. Hollywood trade paper Variety put the opening range at $225 million to $245 million.
Only five movies have taken in more than $200 million at the North American box office on their opening weekend.
Online ticket company Fandango said on Tuesday that the movie had already sold out more than 1,000 showtimes in U.S. theaters for Thursday's opening night.
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans and Josh Brolin, to name but a few, "Infinity Wars" had a reported $300 million to $400 million production budget. Disney declined to comment on the budget.
The movie, which begins its worldwide rollout on Wednesday, brings together more than 20 superheroes including Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-Man, Black Widow and Black Panther for an all-out battle with supervillain Thanos.
Plot details have been shrouded in secrecy, but several major characters die or appear to be killed off.
Variety called the movie "overstuffed and bedazzling" and predicted the ending would be much talked about. "It is dark and spooky and, in its way, chancy and shocking. Do any of our beloved characters die? Well, yes. But, in fact, the ending is so audacious that you realize it's all an elaborate card trick."
Another, as-yet-untitled Avengers movie is in post-production and due for release in May 2019.
"Infinity Wars" scored a positive 75 percent among top critics on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Among the less enthusiastic were Time Out, which called it "an overstuffed sausage of summer entertainment," and Slant magazine, which said it was "all manic monotony" but "passably numbing in the moment."
Reporting by Jill Serjeant Editing by Leslie Adler