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Box Office: Avengers: Endgame’ smashes records with $1.2bn opening

Avengers: Endgame shattered the bounds of realistic opening weekend predictions this weekend, with a towering $350 million domestic and $1.2 billion in its global debut. Of note, 45% of that came from 3-D showings around the world while $91.5 million came from IMAX (double their previous opening weekend record) and even 4DX earned $15 million globally on the title.

Domestically, the film earned a 2.23x multiplier (not bad considering the numbers) and snagged the biggest Thursday preview ($60 million), the biggest “pure Friday” ($96.7 million), the biggest single-day gross ($156.7 million on Friday counting the previews), the biggest Saturday ($109 million, down just 31% from Friday) and biggest Sunday grosses ($84.3 million) even when adjusted for inflation.

Speaking of Thursday previews, it earned just 17.1% of its opening weekend from Thursday alone, which was just a little more frontloaded than Infinity War (15.1% of its $258 million haul). Heck, it earned $290 million this weekend WITHOUT those previews. It sold nearly 39 million tickets in North America just this weekend. And yes, many of those tickets were in IMAX (the entire film was shot with IMAX cameras), Dolby, 3-D and other PLF formats.

Like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II before it, the series finale of the MCU saga (at least for now) shattered previous milestones set by its predecessors by playing to everyone who ever liked this series. The “it all ends here… for real this time” sell, coupled by general audience goodwill, strong reviews and solid word-of-mouth, brought out every remotely casual MCU fan from the last 11 years into theaters.

By the way, kudos to Disney and Marvel for successfully getting a huge series finale bump despite arguably selling Avengers: Infinity War as the end-of-the-end last year. It was a white lie and audiences clearly didn’t mind the bait-and-switch, especially as this campaign emphasized that it was merely the end for the core Avengers. Moreover, kudos to doing with a mostly spoiler-free marketing campaign.

We didn’t even get a title until the first trailer in December of last year (a trend I’m not a fan of overall, but I digress), and we got just a few theatrical trailers or extended previews after that. Most of the marketing came from the first 30 minutes or so of the movie, while there were less than ten TV spots and just one (Captain Marvel-centric) clip released online prior to release.

Marvel sold the hell out of the movie, but the materials they used merely told you that the movie existed and that it would mostly be about resolving the Infinity War cliffhanger. Like Universal’s recent campaign for Jordan Peele’s Us (just one trailer three months out and a Super Bowl spot along with a few TV spots), if you got it, you don’t have to flaunt it. But back to the numbers…

Avengers: Endgame leapfrogged over the $258 million opening weekend of Avengers: Infinity War by 36%. That’s almost a record too. Batman ($43 million in 1989) earned 45% more than Ghostbusters II ($29 million just one week earlier) while Lost World earned 41% more ($74.6 million in 1997) than Batman Forever ($52.7 million in 1995). The Jurassic Park sequel held that milestone for 4.5 years until Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone opened with $90 million in late 2001. That’s a record in terms of longevity of this record, just ahead of the 4.17-year reign of Spider-Man ($114 million in May of 2002) before Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest ($135 million in July of 2006).

With the Avengers series potentially at an end and Star Wars concluding its Skywalker arc this December, I can’t see anything soon that could open anywhere near as high as these numbers. Unless theatrical moviegoing enjoys a resurgence of sorts even as streaming takes its place as a dominant entertainment distribution method, whereby new-to-cinema franchises can compete at levels almost normalized by the MCU and Lucasfilm, Avengers: Endgame may be the last record-breaking opening weekend for the foreseeable future.

Also, of note, Endgame opened 36% higher than Infinity War, which is a bigger jump than the 35% jump from Deathly Hallows Part II ($125 million in 2010) to Deathly Hallows Part II ($169 million in 2011), despite the Harry Potter finale getting its first-ever 3-D conversion. That is a stunning accomplishment.

Where it goes from here is a good question. For the record, when your movie opens with $1.209 billion worldwide and $350 million domestic, there really are no “bad” post-release scenarios.

Even with a $1.209 billion global cume (including a record-breaking $330.5 million five-day launch in China, bigger than Wandering Earth‘s $299 million debut and $91.466 million worldwide in IMAX alone), it would still have to be almost as leggy as Infinity War ($2.048 billion from an $831 million global launch, including China which opened two weeks later) to get past Avatar’s $2.788 billion global finish. Still, a 2.307x multiplier is absolutely possible. In order to pass Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ $937 million domestic gross, it’ll have to earn a multiplier of at least 2.67x, which is leggier than Avengers: Infinity War‘s ($679 million from a $258 million launch) weekend-to-finish multiplier.

Even if those milestones don’t fall (its $42 million IMAX cume in China is already above the entire IMAX cume of Avengers: Infinity War), Avengers: Endgame is now almost assured of taking the silver medal in North America and worldwide. A mere 2.18x multiplier in North America puts it over Avatar’s $760 million domestic finish. And a mere 1.8x multiplier worldwide puts it just past Titanic’s $2.187 billion (counting the 2012 3-D reissue) total. Whether it can pass The Wandering Earth‘s eventual $699 million cume and take the silver medal there (behind Wolf Warrior 2‘s $854 million total in 2017) is an opening question. But it will absolutely pass Fate of the Furious ($392 million) to be the biggest export ever in China.

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Even a domestic multiplier on par with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II ($381 million from a $169 million debut) gets Endgame to $789 million domestic. Even Batman v Superman legs worldwide ($873 million from a $423 million global launch) gets this one to $2.5 billion worldwide. Domestically, Twilight Saga legs (around 2x its opening weekend) still gets the film to $700 million.

On one hand, conventional wisdom argues that the fan-driven “end of the end” sequel will be more frontloaded than its predecessor (and most of the MCU movies up to this point), and thus it doesn’t have a shot in hell of catching up to The Force Awakens in North America or Avatar worldwide. It will indeed face a punishing deluge of demo-swiping competition starting with Detective Pikachu on May 10.

However, if Pikachu plays like Jumanji 2 to The Last Jedi, then the Pokémon flick may go big without canceling out Endgame. Moreover, movies that open above $200 million tend to be at least somewhat leggy, as they tend to be popular and well-liked. In this era, when fewer films break out but those that do tend to stick around, a $350 million-opener (with an A+ Cinemascore grade) like Avengers: Endgame may leg out, or at least not be as frontloaded as a Harry Potter sequel or an early DC Films flick.

Also helping its potential legs is that, while it’s three-hours long, it’s arguably more kid-friendly than the gloomier and doomier Infinity War. No spoilers, but instead of 2.5 hours of Thanos murdering his way across the galaxy in pursuit of those infinity stones, it’s the Avengers engaging in comparatively less violent action to try to undo the last film’s horrific cliffhanger. And, yes, it ends very well, at least trying to present itself as the Return of the King of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Even with the kids in school for the next month and no Christmas-to-New Years legs to boost its weekday figures, I’m not yet comfortable presuming that it’ll play like Deathly Hallows Part II (or even Captain America: Civil War).

As noted yesterday, as much as we might decry the state of fictional cinema as audiences seem only willing to see the biggest movies in theaters (and the biggest movies are usually superhero flicks) and as much as this cements Disney’s current infinity gauntlet-like grasps on the theatrical marketplace, this is an earned debut.

This wasn’t (all due respect) Walt Disney buying Lucasfilm and making a direct sequel to Return of the Jedi (mostly cashing in on the work done by the previous six Star Wars movies) and then watching the Star Wars fans roll in. It’s not even Universal making a fourth Jurassic Park movie 14 years after the last one and (partially) cashing in on franchise nostalgia.

This is the culmination of a decade’s worth of good-to-great (save for a few stinkers) comic book action fantasies that did the work in making B or C-level Marvel characters into A-level movie stars. Yes, Paramount doesn’t get enough credit for selling Iron ManThor and Captain America (back when they were the undisputed kings of tentpole marketing)but the triumph was an ongoing one filtered through Marvel Studios no matter which distributor (Disney, Paramount, Sony or Universal) was releasing a given flick.

Even the worst MCU movies were (like Harry Potter) character plays first, action fantasies second and worldbuilding exercises a distant third. That’s a big part of their success. Even the bad movies featured characters whose company you relished. And even the MCU movies I didn’t care for had strong production values, narrative coherence, a stacked cast and a general meat-and-potatoes entertainment value.

They got the fundamentals right every time, even if a given film was lacking for one reason or another. Moreover, the folks who showed up and will show up did so not because they liked superhero movies or even because they liked Marvel Comics. They have gravitated toward the specific cinematic incarnations (Chris Evans’ Captain America, Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, etc.) of these particular MCU characters and very much wanted to see how their story would end.

The franchise pulled off a win/win, operating as a cinematic universe while also releasing crowd-pleasing films that more-or-less stood on either own even within a given franchise or the overall mythology. That sometimes meant that the big cross-over events contradicted the arcs of the stand-alone franchises, but that’s comic book storytelling for you.

Audiences flocked to MCU movies not because of the mere idea of superhero movies or the mere idea of a cinematic universe, but because they gravitated towards these versions of these superheroes within this specific cinematic universe, safe in the knowledge that they didn’t need to see all of them to enjoy the new one. You didn’t need to see Iron Man 3 to enjoy Guardians of the Galaxy and you didn’t need to see Doctor Strange to enjoy Black Panther. But this summer, everyone is seeing Avengers: Endgame.

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