‘Ant-Man’ Shows Power and Limits of Marvel Brand

Ant-Man
Courtesy of Marvel

Ant-Man” demonstrates both the power of the Marvel brand and what can hold it back.

The film’s $58 million debut would have been a strong start for nearly any other company, but for Marvel, which has fielded a dizzying number of blockbusters, it is something of a disappointment. “Ant-Man’s” opening ranks below the numbers that films centering on Captain America, Thor and Iron Man put up during their launches. More importantly, it failed to top the $60 million domestically that most analysts predicted it would make this weekend.

There is a crucial difference, however, between “Ant-Man” and other superhero movies. In the Marvel universe, Ant-Man is more of a utility player than star attraction. Given the dubious pedigree, it’s doubtful that many other companies could have made a movie about a man with the powers of a household pest and enjoyed stronger results.

“The media expects a lot, maybe too much, from Marvel movies,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “This is not a B-list character. It’s barely even a C-list one. It’s a comicbook that hardly anybody collected.”

Executives at Disney, Marvel’s parent company, admitted that they would have liked a bigger number, but tried to accentuate the positive, noting that Ant-Man was, in their words, “an obscure character.”

The film, which is noticeably lighter in tone, was intended to bring in younger audiences, Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis argued. “We were able to successfully launch a new character and to do so in a way that expands the audience of who is coming to see our movies,” he said. “In the long run, that’s of overwhelming value.”

But competition for the family dollar is intense this summer, given that animated films like “Minions” and “Inside Out” are still doing big business. Whatever the studio’s intentions may have been, “Ant-Man” did only slightly better among audiences with kids than “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Families comprised 22% of the opening weekend crowd for the “Avengers” sequel and 26% of ticket buyers for the “Guardians” adventure compared to 28% for “Ant-Man.”

On the plus side, people seemed to like the picture, handing it an A CinemaScore rating, so it could benefit from word of mouth as summer enters its dog days.

What’s more troubling is that “Ant-Man” shows that even with the strongest brand in comicbook movies behind it, audiences won’t show up to see just any costumed vigilante. Marvel may have felt emboldened by the success of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which took marginal figures and fashioned them into film stars, but James Gunn’s pop culture-infused direction helped elevate that material. There simply wasn’t enough to distinguish “Ant-Man” from the onslaught of origin stories and superhero films.

Standing out from the pack will only get harder. In the coming years, Marvel is delving deeper into the comicbook archive, backing movies based on more obscure heroes like Black Panther and Doctor Strange.

At the same time, the studios it licenses its characters to, such as Fox and Sony, plan to raid the recesses of the X-Men and Spider-Man universes to produce movies based on niche figures like Deadpool and Venom. That’s to say nothing of DC Comics, which is about to embark on its own ambitious cavalcade of superhero movies with the 2016 releases of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad.” All these movies will beget an endless array of spinoffs, prequels and crossover films, testing enthusiasm for the genre. It’s a slate that has the Comic-Con crowd in a state of euphoria, but the rest of the public, not versed in the fruits of Stan Lee’s off-days, may need convincing.

“This sends a clear message to Marvel that they need to up the stakes a little bit,” said Bock. “This was a solid film, but it was also on a little bit of cruise control. They should have had a cameo from Iron Man or something to up the ante.”

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  1. Michael H. says:

    I’ve seen a lot of overly positive responses to Ant-Man, even from people whose opinion I highly respect, but I also think that ‘Ant-Man’ isn’t like the “greatest thing in the MCU” or anything.
    I mean, yes, I agree that it kind of played it safe or on “cruise control”. It’s a very good movie, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not all as amazing as it was made out to be, even by the most competent people.
    And this is coming from someone who just saw it hours ago. It didn’t need to settle for like a day or a week so my judgement wouldn’t be so clouded by excitement, because my excitement never went through the roof, I barely touched the ceiling.
    That sounds kinda negative, but I just thought it was really good and I really do want to see another ‘Ant-Man’-movie. It was just like ‘Iron Man’ but in a different presentation, it seems like they can’t really top a movie like ‘Iron Man’ but only change the presentation and characters, or make a TV-show to actually make something amazing (Daredevil).

  2. Jack Monte says:

    A cameo from Iron Man or Thor wouldn’t have made a difference. Why pay 14 dollars to see a character you can watch on a DVD at home? The problem is that Marvel and WB should watch how much money they spend on these films, because when the balloon bursts on the genre they’re going to have more than one 200 mil mess on their plates and just waiting for the first weekend to see how it does.

  3. Jimi LaLumia says:

    first of all, people said Ant Man was a problem /troubled product that would never get made, as it was on the back burner since 203, before the first Iron Man.. then big diva , the highly over rated Edgar Wright who has never made a block buster film, gummed up the works for years, causing Ant Man (and The Wasp) to be left out of The Avengers films, even though they were the founders of The Avengers..

    Joss Whedon said rude things about the character and went with Quicksilver instead who got killed anyway!!!
    It became fashionable for geeks to moan Edgar Wright, and at the previous Comic Con, they gave the cast and crew a hard time and a rude welcome. well guess what..#1 movie in America, closing in on $200 million worldwide already, and the character will appear in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR next year..so get over it and STFU!

  4. When Marvel can have a movie that was pretty much an artistic ‘reclamation project’ after its Director walked still make almost $60 million opening weekend – especially when it is a movie about one of its less marketable characters, that has to be seen as asuccess. Marvel didn’t even need to make this movie but now has established another character to utilize down the road. BTW, yes, Ant Man was a founding member of the original 1960’s Avengers team but so what? this isn’t even the same character under the mask, just a version of Ant Man that Marvel pretty much discarded in its comic books years ago by having him go clinically insane. How cheerful.

    Also, when many fans start spitting blood in sheer disappointment after going to see the upcoming Fantastic Four or Suicide Squad movies, something like ant Man will look like even more of an artistic success.

  5. graemeburk says:

    Or it could be a sign of what happens when a movie is conceived over a decade ago as a stand-alone film made by a particular auteur with a line in quirky action-horror-comedies (Edgar Wright) and then retooled as a tentpole film of a now-established franchise of superhero movies that drove out said auteur who pitched the movie to Marvel as a passion project in the first place.

  6. Ant Man is in a class by itself. It combines the action and heart of Captain America and the humor and heart of Role Models. All of the actors worked well together. The script was tight. It balanced material for adults with stuff for kids. There are lots of quotable lines. I believe that it will be a strong seller for a long time. I’m planning on watching it many times and getting a copy of the script to study as soon as it’s available.

  7. Avneesh Mehta says:

    If the “analysts” had predicted $50 million, this article would have been titled “Ant-Man shows there are no limits to Marvel’s power”.

    I’m no Marvel fanboy and thought this movie was good, not great but it is a success by all measures. It’s likely to do at least $300 million worldwide for a $130 million budget movie about a man who shrinks and communicates with Ants that no one’s ever heard of before, Marvel has no reason to complain. If anything it just proves that they can make a movie out of anything and it’ll at minimum be a modest hit if not a blockbuster.

  8. J halves says:

    I wonder if similar to guardians of the galaxy, Ant Man will soon garner more buzz due to word of mouth. Sure a lot of ppl went in with low expectations but came out thinking that was awesome would gain more positive attention that Age of Ultron where ppl were hyped but let down. In GotG’s case, the movie was #1 in its first week but fell behind TMNT in weeks 2&3. However when word got around that TMNT sucked and GotG was gold, GotG came back to #1 in week 4.

  9. ElJay says:

    I’m enjoying the commentary of the media set who think that the fact that Ant-Man “only” made 58m on it’s opening weekend is some sign of gloom and doom for the Marvel brand of movies.

    Nothing can be further from the facts.

    This was a small movie that had no home until Edgar Wright left, Marvel put the hammer down and made a damn fine movie for Marvel Fans.

    Marvel Fans responded.

    This is the Marvel Base.

    Any future Marvel movie (if they maintain the standards of quality they have thus far) can expect at LEAST this much bank.

    If it’s an event movie like Civil War triple these numbers at least.

    Marvel has established themselves as a hit machine and they have a license to print money from their efforts from now on.

  10. jarvision says:

    I knew it would be Marvel’s first “failure” as it were. Henry Pym Antman and the Wasp should’ve been the stars of the movie, there should not have been an old Pym or Scott Lang or a made up daughter. A young Pym and his wife should’ve been introduced in Avengers as SHIELD scientists trying to find a cure for the Hulk and and they should’ve popped up in every subsequent movie all leading to a solo movie.

    This movie should also not have starred Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lily two of the most asinine boring movie stars working today.

    I suspect the only reason there is even an Ant-Man movie is because Marvel tried to reel Edgar Wright in to make a movie for them and gave him some second string character he could play with and do with whatever he liked but then when a didn’t want to keep his movie within the confines of the MCU they fired him.

    • David Benjamin says:

      I could not disagree with you more. Paul Rudd is a fine comedic actor..and Evangeline Lilly is sexy as hell! And to the author of this piece..Black Panther is NOT an “obscure Marvel character”. The king of Wakanda has a storied history in Marvel Fandom going back to the 70s! Get that straight, please and thank you.

  11. DC Spence says:

    Loved it. Lots of fun. Special FX great, but on a smaller, more accessible scale than the Avengers movies. Approve of the unorthodox, but very successful casting of Paul Rudd. Best part of the movie is the ants. They do a great job with those and they add a very cool angle to the film. Very creative. Message of smaller beating bigger [Take that, Thor!] a much-needed corrective for the Marvel universe. I’m sorry it’s being viewed as a box office disappointment.

  12. PJ says:

    “This is not a B-list character. It’s barely even a C-list one. It’s a comicbook that hardly anybody collected.”

    How dare you speak such things about one of the founding members of the Avengers?!

  13. NoEyeCandy NoMoney says:

    As a mom who drags her kids – boys ages 11, 13, 15 – to most of the comic book movies of the past 10 years, besides an extremely lame title/concept – one thing that was missing for me was the eye candy. Paul Rudd is no leading man. Thor drew me in because of Chris Hemsorth, Guardians because of Chris Pratt, an interesting ensemble, and a great trailer, but Ant-Man looked like a re-tread Iron Man. After being burned by the bore-fest that was Ultron, my kids and I had no desire to see yet another comic story about a guy who flys around in a red metal suit. We’ll see the next Captain America and Guardians but we’re about done with comic movies to get our action movie fix at this point.

    • Spider says:

      Point taken. However, you and your sons are missing out. “Ant-Man” is a solid, entertaining flick. You’d be pleasantly surprised. You should at least catch a matinee.

    • Dennis Lamb says:

      Wait till Batman v Superman comes out then.

      Also, only watching films because the male lead is good looking? That’s rather disgusting, to be honest.

  14. Ant man is not a flop, but it’s far from a success, but yeah showed that the power of the Marvel brand has its limits.

  15. BLACK MAN says:

    I would like to add that Michael Pena was awesome in the movie.

  16. James Nelson says:

    It’s funny when you consider a character that’s been around for over 50 years to be a new character, when a team like Guardians of the Galaxy has characters that are relative youngsters in comparison. This is marketing that wasn’t up to Marvel’s usual standards plain and simple. The mainstream audience as a whole don’t really know any of these characters.

  17. Jacques Strappe says:

    Yeah, the $58 million vs the projected $60 million spells the end of Marvel and civilization as we know it. Combined foreign market box office has become much more important than the US and early reports are that those foreign markets where Ant-Man debuted exceeded expectations so go figure. I might be wrong but didn’t Marvel debut Ant-Man on far fewer screens than many of their other films to push more traffic at 3D screenings?

  18. BillUSA says:

    I think it’s great that MCU can hit near-blockbuster status with a “marginal” character like Ant-Man, at least because it shows they have good ideas about particular characters and how to get most out of the canon while adding a bit of nuance.

    This character never appealed to me but that’s not meant as a bad thing. Rather, I’m more interested in seeing the film. My only concern is how well the growing inclusion of characters might translate into a lower standard of quality. It happens but the good thing is that MCU is doing such a great job. With DC coming into the mix, there will be no shortage of superhero films for all of us to see and own.

    I’ve often read remarks by commentators who aren’t fans of the genre which basically say that too many superhero films and television series abound. I’ll admit to being a fan of the genre, but they do offer something different that the decades prior to this trend made available. They’ve all done a great job, even the films that rank lower on my list of their brethren.

  19. Wayne klein says:

    I couldn’t disagree more with the author of this article. “Ant-Man” is far from a disappointment. It was well scripted, entertaining and balanced the storytelling vs. action quite well. N fact, I would put this up there with “Captain America:Winter Soldier” which remains the best Marvel movie made yet. The film hasn’t even debuted to its overseas audience yet. Let’s see how it does interntionally before passing judgment, shall we

  20. Robert Dassler says:

    It is WB/DC that should be worried by this development. If Marvel can’t sell Ant-Man with all the good will that they have built up since 2008 then what chance will WB/DC have convincing people to pay good money to watch z-list characters like Cyborg, Aquaman and Green Lantern? They have already chickened out by shoehorning Wonder Woman into Batman V Superman and Batman into Suicide Squad. Is every DC movie going to feature Batman?

    • Man of steel has no Batman and made more money than 7 of 9 solo movies from Marvel studios (I’m including Ant man).

      • John says:

        Sorry but compared to its budget, MOS was a flop. The nearly $300 million dollar movie plus another $200 million that was tacked on for the years of development hell it was in? Yeah. All MARVEL movies have been bigger hits than MOS. All of them. So much so that WB itself had to include Batman in his sequel to make sure this one makes money. Proof is in the pudding. Just that people need to realize this….

    • Spider says:

      WB/DC has been worried since 2011’s “Green Lantern”.

      • Kindoalkun says:

        Wrong. You are completely wrong on all counts.

        The “Man of Steel” budget was $225 million. “Man of Steel” made over $170 million in product placement before a ticket was even sold. It was highly profitable. Also, any failed production costs from years earlier were absorbed by “Superman Returns.” And those costs were more like $20 million mostly from the Tim Burton “Superman Lives” project in the 90’s. Finally, the Ed Norton Hulk movie was about $38 million from even breaking even at the box office.

  21. Angel Torres says:

    I just hope that critics and moviegoers alike, just have patience and understand that there are bigger things to come. If you stay for the end credits, you’ll understand that more is coming with the next movie and that if these stand alones DONT MAKE 100 million dollars, it’s ok because some of these characters will be incorporated into bigger things later. “It’s not the end of the world, oh my god, it only made 58 million.” ” Let’s stop making super hero movies now”. JUST RELAX, everything will be fine!!!!! Patience audience and the marvel universe will play out and in the end, we’ll all enjoy the results

    • Joel Emmett says:

      “Is every DC movie going to feature Batman?”

      You say that like it’s a bad thing.

      +1 for cameos.

  22. Xmasevebaby says:

    Better get on the Black Panther bandwagon now, because once this character is introduced to the general public in Captain America: Civil War, it is going to be Iron Man, circa 2008 all over again….MAKE MINE T’CHALLA!!!

  23. Mister Mee says:

    Ant-Man… I was hopeful, but resigned to believing that this eccentric and relatively obscure movie would be a CGI frenzied worthlessness romp.

    I was wrong… It was engaging, well scripted (for Marvel) and well acted. Made me want to try to hug an ant.

    Well done Marvel. Now you need to learn that Captain America (on his own) is boring and it’s all rainbows and unicorns again.

    • Jim says:

      Hmmm, they had Black Widow and Falcon in major roles in the last Cap movie and the next Cap movie will have half their roster including introducing Black Panther and the MCU Spider-Man. Winter Soldier was one of their most critically-acclaimed movies and did huge numbers at the box office. Tell us again what they need to “learn” about Cap and how to handle him in movies? lmao

  24. What I find amusing is that all of these critics who never picked up a comic book in their life but garner all of their knowledge of comics from after the superhero boom, call Ant-Man a second or third string superhero, when in actuality ANt-Man was a founding member of the Avengers and the actual creator of Ultron.

    • JoelR says:

      Part if the reason was that Ant-Man wasn’t always Ant-Man. He was also Giant Man and Yellowjacket (who, I assume, is now a different person and villianous to boot.)

  25. It suffered from a lacklustre initial marketing campaign. the initial artwork poster and teasers did nothing for anyone. You could tell they started to ramp things up with the posters aligning Antman to The Avengers,

    Speaking of which Age of Ultron was a mess of a movie, even so, they could have easily linked in Ant-Man to leverage The Avengers connection.

    The controversy about Edgar Wright probably didn’t help, although the average movie goer probably didn’t know anything about it. Personally, it felt Marvel was runnign scared. There was no confirmed release date here in the UK for ages. It’s hard to get excited about a movie when you don’t know when it’s coming out. One comes to the conclusion it’s trying to avoid being pitted up against other movies because it will do badly.

    After viewing, this movie stands up to the original Iron Man movie, the first Avengers film, Guardians of the galaxy and Cap 2, The Winter Soldier. Look at the Twitter comments. people went in with low expectations and came out loving it, helping spread the movie by word of mouth.

    However, It still remains that everyone had low expectations to begin with, which hurt it’s opening debut.

    • Jim says:

      The release date in the U.S. was confirmed for quite some time and nothing was delayed with the release after Wright left. They got a new director, brought in a new writer to revise the script and kept their filming and release schedule. Marvel wasn’t “running scared” from anything. In fact, Fox pushed back the Fantastic Four release to avoid the first two weeks of Ant-Man’s run. The fact is that Marvel didn’t have grand plans for Ant-Man anyway. They committed to making this movie with Wright before the first Ironman movie was released. By the time Wright got finally got around to making the movie, the Marvel landscape had changed. Ant-Man isn’t even in their Phase 3 release schedule. They incorporated him into Civil War and the new Wasp will get incorporated into other movies much like Hawkeye and Black Widow. Ant-Man was never intended to carry 3-4 solo movies. This movie had a much lower budget than their other movies and will be profitable. The movie is doing exactly what they wanted it to do.

  26. BLACK MAN says:

    The Ant-Man character is awesome and has a lot potential. I enjoyed the movie, and if they ever make a sequel the character will be more known and popular.

  27. Zesty says:

    I’d stack Ant Man up against any of the Thor films…now THOSE films (and Ultron) were on cruise control

    • Angelo says:

      Yes! it was marginally equal or better than Thor 1 and Ultron but overwhelming more coherent and enjoyable than Thor 2 and those god awful Iron Man sequels.

  28. Mark Bigford says:

    It may not pull in the same numbers as age of ultron but this was a far superior film… And by that I mean I’d gladly watch this one again… Ultron not so much.

    • snd says:

      Mark – I completely agree, Ultron to me was a over the top disoriented mess with a weak story. Ant-Man I thought was refreshing n certainly better than Thor 1 n Cap 1.

  29. Carlo says:

    Boy, this guy is a total moron. Just love these guys that sit on the sidelines and take jabs at a good movie. Most of them have no idea what goes into making a movie and it it’s not either a blockbuster, a cartoon or a dysfunctional family, they have to pan it. Mostly because they lead mean, no value lives, they want to knock anyone who might be enjoying life. I will look forward to seeing this movie they know what they can do with their critique.

  30. Spider says:

    “Ant-Man”, is a pretty good flick. It was solid in it’s storytelling and succeeded in establishing a character that was hardly known in the superhero genre by delivering an action-adventure heist comedy, with enough drama and conflict to make situations, such as the father/daughter dynamic, relatable. The flick is not perfect, nor Oscar-worthy, but it was a good time at the movies and positive word-of-mouth will surely help. The box office take is nothing to be disappointed about as 58 million is pretty damn, good. This flick will have “legs”. :)

  31. prbrandt says:

    Yeah, a cameo from Iron Man would have convinced me to see this movie (/sarcasm). What Marvel movies actually need are less “universe-building” and more quality storytelling.

  32. mat says:

    They did have a cameo by falcon. Having Iron Man is problematic, because they would have to pay Downey half a million dollars a day.

    • Mark Bigford says:

      I agree with you… I was worried they would try to force in Avengers characters… But the falcon cameo didnt feel forced at all… It made sense and was alot of fun actually… Age of ultron just sucked so bad i was really worried about the quality of Marvel movies going forward…but Ant-man was good.

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