Yesterday, tickets went on sale for Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Infinity War and a new trailer was released, but you probably already know that, because it was nearly impossible to miss that fact if you were anywhere near the internet yesterday morning.
The culmination of Marvel’s first ten years and three phases is culminating in the biggest superhero mash-up ever on April 26, and I’m sure many people are already wondering how much money that movie can possibly make. That’s especially the case now that Marvel’s Black Panther is surpassing all early expectations, as it will gross more than $600 million by tomorrow.
I’ve been doing this kind of thing for a while, and though I’m used to surprises and shockers (like being off by almost $70 million on Black Panther’s opening), it’s by no means too early to see if the early summer kick-off film will be setting even more records.
While it’s nice to have tracking and other data before trying to predict a movie’s box office, Avengers: Infinity War is both easier to track because it has a lot of precursors for comparison but also harder because it’s likely to be in that blockbuster opening range that’s very hard to track. In that sense, Avengers: Infinity War is like any of the Star Wars movies released in the past twenty years where it’s anyone’s guess where it might end up before seeing the first box office receipts.
That said, I’m going to give it the old college try anyway.
Let’s go back in time to May 4, 2012, the release of Marvel’s The Avengers, which was also the first Marvel Studios release under Walt Disney Pictures after they just went and bought Marvel as Disney is prone to do. This was months before Disney would add Lucasfilm to its collection of mega-studios, and that movie came after the release of two hit Iron Man movies, Captain America: The First Avenger and the first Thor movie. At that time, the biggest opening movie ever was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 with $169 million, and the idea of a $200 million opener was simply unheard of, because it had never been done before.
Since then four other movies have opened over that mark, Jurassic World, two of the new Star Wars movies and of course, Black Panther. Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron in 2015 and Captin America: Civil War in 2016 both came very close. Only the original Avengers and Black Panther have been successful enough to hit $600 million domesetically.
What was interesting after that original Avengers was how the “Avengers factor” helped movies that followed like Iron Man 3 and the two Captain America sequels do far better than their predecessors. Even Thor: Ragnarok did better than the earlier films simply by bringing Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk into the mix.
In the time since the first Avengers, Marvel also introduced a bunch of new characters in stand-alone films like Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man and Doctor Strange, the first of those doing well enough to get a sequel greenlit almost immediately. The sequel to Ant-Man has the unfortunate burden of following Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, and unless the Wasp is absolutely awesome, it will be Ant-Man’s last solo movie.
It’s clear that Marvel Studios has created a brand that is bringing in far more moviegoers than the typical comic book or superhero movie, and when you take all of those characters and their respective audiences – granted, there’s a ton of overlap between them – and you throw all of them into one big movie like Avengers: Infinity War, it would seem like the sky is the limit.
Surely, there has to be some way to create a Venn diagram between those that saw the first Avengers and Black Panther, although Marvel’s latest hit surely must have brought in a lot bigger African-Americans than any of Marvel’s previous movies due to its director, cast and the general tone of the film that combined modern hip hop with African traditions. (Seriously, whomever came up with the idea of having Ryan Coogler direct that movie should be in a bungalow on a tropical island somewhere enjoying a nice vacation right now, although Kevin Feige is probably too busy getting Infinity War done.)
Let’s say those who liked the first two Avengers movies and those that loved Black Panther will be on board for Infinity War, that doesn’t mean they’ll all go out to see the movie opening weekend. It also doesn’t mean that we can simply add the opening of the two movies, because we have to take into consideration that there will only be so many theaters and screens playing Infinity War. We also have to consider that Infinity War is probably going to be long, possibly even pushing the three-hour mark after it was decided not to make it a two-parter. The longer the movie the less times it can be played on each screen. (Theater owners are smart enough that if they have 12 screens to work with, Infinity War will be playing on at least nine of them.)
Let’s go back to that question posed in the subject line, and that is records, because that’s all that matters when it comes to the box office, right? (I’m half-joking.)
One of the brilliant and also kind of evil things Marvel/Disney did was move Avengers: Infinity War into late April, because that means it will almost definitely set a new April opening record. (Sorry, Furious 7.) In some ways, that also means that it will have to beat Black Panther’s $202 million opening to become the biggest movie to open in the pre-summer quarter of the year. Sure, it’s kind of cheating to release a movie in the last week of April and try to call it “the summer” but Disney did it once before when they opened Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in late April 2005, trying to make it seem like a summer release. That didn’t really work, but then Universal stepped things up by releasing 2009’s Fast and Furious in early April then following it with Fast Five in late April 2011. Two of the next three movies in the series also had April releases.
At least Universal had those dates picked fairly early on. Disney/Marvel’s fairly last minute move – yeah, for a blockbuster like Infinity War to movie less than two months in advance is “last minute” – left other movies scrambling to find new dates, including a few grabbing its old May opening date.
But back to the question at hand…
Star Wars: The Force Awakens currently has the biggest opening of all time with almost $248 million, and that’s probably the record and milestone that Marvel Studios will be shooting for with Infinity War. Just because Avengers: Age of Ultron opened softer and didn’t gross as much as Marvel’s The Avengers, that definitely won’t happen with Infinity War. First of all, you have all those characters from every Marvel movie so far, including Spider-Man, who plays almost as big a factor as Black Panther. You also have the Russos, who directed the popular Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War, taking over the reins on this one, which will excite the fans just as much as the number of superheroes colliding with Josh Brolin’s Thanos.
Those opening day records set by Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Star Wars: The Force Awakens with $104.6 and $119 million respectively, seem like a bit of a push for Infinity Wars to surpass, although Age of Ultron did $84.4 million its opening day in 2015. $27.6 million of that came from Thursday previews which have become far more common with each passing year. That number needs to be compared to The Force Awakens $45 million in Thursday previews, and it’s not even close.
Black Panther did $25 million in Thursday previews just last month, and it scored the biggest opening weekend for a solo Marvel hero movie. Surely, Infinity War will surpass both those Thursday previews and might do somewhere in the $30 to 35 million, which could help Infinity War have the biggest opening day for a Marvel Studios movie. So many of those Force Awakens records are going to be tough to beat, but they’ll set a good benchmark for where Infinity War can aim.
Yesterday afternoon, Fandango reported that it was selling tickets for Avengers: Infinity War were selling faster than Black Panther, but that’s gotta be the biggest “no, duh” in the history of press releases. It’s almost like giving a puppy its first taste of red meat and then being shocked that he’s jumping up to try to get the rest of the meat off your plate as you eat. The frenzy that Marvel has created for its movies even before Black Panther is so big that everyone on the planet wants to see them before everyone else. (My suggestion to those so rabid to see these movies first is to kidnap Kevin Feige and perform an operation like the one in Jordan Peele’s Get Out. I’m kidding. Please don’t do that.)
We have to remember that no one outside Marvel has seen Avengers: Infinity War yet, and while Disney has its usual hype machine ready to go, Black Panther is going to be a tough act to follow, and you know how they say “Less is more”? Just because Infinity War has every Marvel Cinematic Universe character, that doesn’t mean they’ll all get enough time to satisfy the fans, let alone the critics.
Right now, I would say that Avengers: Infinity War will open somewhere in the $230 million range, right between Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but the Black Panther factor could keep pushing advance ticket sales even higher, so we’ll just have to see.
Check back opening weekend to see if my prediction or thoughts on what’s likely to be one of the year’s bigger blockbusters has changed at all.
Edward Douglas | East Coast Editor