Sorry, British wizards. It’s time for an all-American hero to reign at the box office.

‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ opened at No. 1 with an estimated $ 65.8 million, dethroning ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2’ and beating fellow Marvel flick ‘Thor’ by a hair for bragging rights to the biggest superhero movie debut of the summer. In its second week, ‘Potter’ plunged 72 percent to an estimated $ 48.1 million, still a weekend take that most movies would kill for.

A close race was expected this weekend between the ‘Avengers’ franchise launcher and the ‘Potter’ franchise farewell. Both movies were expected to earn anywhere from $ 50 to $ 65 million, with a lot of variables in play. Both films are playing in 2D and 3D versions, both are riding strong waves of promotional hype and positive word-of-mouth and both seem to have all-ages appeal. Plus, a sharp drop-off for ‘Potter’ was inevitable after last week’s multiple record-breaking opening, while anticipation for ‘Captain America’ has been building for at least three years.

In the end, ‘Captain America’ slightly exceeded expectations; its $ 65.8 million take is just barely ahead of the $ 65.7 million that ‘Thor’ earned during its first weekend a couple months ago. According to Paramount, it did even better among an older audience (after all, the comic has been around for decades), attracting a crowd whose over-25 share was 58 percent.

In contrast, ‘Potter’ fell much further than expected. Still, $ 48.1 million is nothing to complain about, and neither is a 10-day total of $ 274.2 million, nor a worldwide total that’s approaching $ 1 billion.

Opening in third place was ‘Friends With Benefits,’ which scored an estimated $ 18.5 million. That’s a respectable number, considering that the similar ‘No Strings Attached’ (which opened with $ 19.7 million) was in theaters just a few months ago, or that it was competing for older audiences with ‘Captain America’ and ‘Harry Potter,’ or that two other R-rated comedies (‘Horrible Bosses’ and ‘Bad Teacher’) are still in the top 10, or that neither Justin Timberlake nor Mila Kunis is a proven box office draw.

‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’ was fourth, with an estimated $ 12.0 million. That’s down 44 percent from last week. The robot saga’s four-week total is $ 325.8 million, so it’s still far and away the top-grossing movie of the year to date.

‘Horrible Bosses’ was just a shade behind ‘Transformers,’ earning an estimated $ 11.7 million, good for fifth place. It saw a third-week decline of just 34 percent. In 17 days, it’s earned $ 82.4 million.

Box office for the year is still down 6 percent ($ 385.5 million) from this time in 2010. Still, box office for July is up almost 4 percent ($ 39.4 million) from this time last July. A few more weeks like the last two, and 2011 may finally pull ahead of 2010.

‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ – Trailer No. 3

The full top 10:
1. ‘Captain America: The First Avenger,’ $ 65.8 million (3,715 screens), new release
2. ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2,’ $ 48.1 million (4,375), $ 274.2 million total
3. ‘Friends With Benefits,’ $ 18.5 million (2,926), new release
4. ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon,’ $ 12.0 million (3,375), $ 325.8 million
5. ‘Horrible Bosses,’ $ 11.7 million (3,104), $ 82.4 million
6. ‘Zookeeper,’ $ 8.7 million (3,215), $ 59.2 million
7. ‘Cars 2,’ $ 5.7 million (2,668), $ 176.4 million
8. ‘Winnie the Pooh,’ $ 5.1 million (2,405), $ 17.6 million
9. ‘Bad Teacher,’ $ 2.6 million (2,034), $ 94.4 million
10. ‘Midnight in Paris,’ $ 1.9 million (621), $ 48.9 million

Follow Gary Susman on Twitter: @garysusman.

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