More than 3 million people packed cinemas across China on Wednesday for special midnight screenings of Avengers: Endgame, and for many of the dedicated fans watching the latest instalment in the Marvel Studios series it was a bittersweet experience.
"I have seen many first screenings. It's normal for the audience to scream or applaud, but for this one, many people were crying, and the crying grew louder and louder, which I didn't expect at all," a man from Zhengzhou, Henan province, told Pearvideo.com. "Without any exaggeration, I give it 10 points."
Liu Minjian, a cinema manager in Hangzhou, capital of east China's Zhejiang province, told the Qianjiang Evening News that in the 25 years he had been in the business it was "the craziest midnight screening I have ever seen". The theatre showed the film on each of its 11 screens.
The movie broke several Chinese records even before it opened. According to ticketing website Maoyan, ticket presales for the film topped 774 million yuan (S$23 million), or 85 per cent more than Avengers: Infinity War, the penultimate instalment in the series, took on its release last year.
The midnight screenings were shown in 82 per cent of the nation's cinemas and watched by 3.04 million people.
Few of them seemed deterred by the prospect of having to stay up late.
"I have class tomorrow, an exam actually, but this is more worthwhile," a student in Zhengzhou told Pear Video.
"Today feels more like a new year celebration for me," a man who saw the film in Beijing was quoted as saying by The Beijing News. "It was the same last year when Avengers: Infinity War opened. It's the most important day of the whole year."
Despite Beijing imposing strict quotas on foreign movie releases, all of the films that make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe, starting with Iron Man in 2008, have been screened in mainland China and a huge fan base has grown up around it.
In April last year, tens of thousands of fans attended a 10th anniversary event at the Shanghai Disney Resort, although many were disappointed when Chinese pop singers took centre stage rather than the film's stars.
Their massed complaints on social media eventually prompted Marvel to apologise.
Things went much better last week in Shanghai, when Marvel threw a fan extravaganza in the city.
Stars like "Captain America" Chris Evans, "Thor" Chris Hemsworth, "Hawkeye" Jeremy Renner, "Ant-Man" Paul Rudd, directors Anthony and Joe Russo, and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige were greeted with thunderous applause.
Many fans who have grown up with the film series and its stars said that watching the midnight show on Wednesday was like witnessing the end of an era.
"I liked watching the Avengers movies when I was a young boy. They were an important part of my youth," said a man in Beijing.
A woman said: "I cried when I saw the scenes from the past. They brought back my memories from my youth, it was totally worth it."
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.