At the decade mark, the Marvel Cinematic Universe shows no sign of losing momentum.
“Infinity War” bowed to a heroic $258 million in North America this weekend, along with $382 million internationally for a grand total of $640 million globally. And the tentpole hasn’t even opened in China yet. That’s a towering pinnacle for any franchise to reach, let alone a film series in its 19th installment.
The haul easily surpassed “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” — which bowed with $248 million in 2015 — as the biggest domestic opening ever. It also tops “The Fate of the Furious” as the highest global opening weekend of all time. The eighth film in the Fast and the Furious franchise previously held the top spot for its $542 million worldwide debut.
Its domestic opening also flies ahead of its Marvel predecessors. Prior to “Infinity War,” the original “Avengers” had the highest opening to date for a Marvel film, debuting with $207.4 million. Its sequel, “Age of Ultron,” launched with $191 million. In total, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has earned over $15 billion worldwide.
“You almost have to separate Marvel and Disney from other studios at this point,” Jeff Bock, a box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations, said. “The think tank is unprecedented. It has never been matched to this level.”
Plain and simple, he said, audiences love these films. “You can’t deny it,” Bock said. “The quality are what everyone should be shooting for.”
Paul Dergarabedian, box office analyst at comScore, points to four key reasons why “Infinity War” in particular smashed box office records: “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “Spider-Man Homecoming,” “Thor: Ragnarok,” and “Black Panther.”‘
Between May 2017 when “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” landed and February 2018 with the cultural phenomenon that is “Black Panther,” the Disney-owned Marvel knocked it out of the park with one hit after the next leading up to “Infinity War’s” arrival.
“These past four movies could not have asked for a better way to lead into this release,” Dergarabedian said. “They were all the perfect manifestation of what you want in a superhero movie. They all felt like they were doing something different.”
Cranking out consecutive hits is no simple task. You don’t have to look much further than Marvel’s superhero rival DC to see that. DC’s “Wonder Woman” soared past expectations, opening in June 2017 to $102 million at the domestic box office before going on to earn $412.5 million in North America and $821.8 worldwide. Patty Jenkin’s historic blockbuster was bolstered by glowing reviews on top of audiences’ desire to see Gal Gadot in the first female-led superhero movie.
When Gadot’s Wonder Woman reappeared again a few months later in November 2017’s “Justice League,” all signs should have pointed to another smash success. While not a total flop, the critically derided “Justice League” couldn’t crack $100 million in its domestic debut. It opened with $93.8 million and ended up making $229 million in North America and $658 globally. The disappointing results only reignited questions about DC’s long-term viability.
“With superhero fatigue, we’re talking about DC,” Bock said. “If the opening weekend worldwide [of ‘Infinity War’] does better than ‘Justice League’ did in its entire run, it gives you an idea of where they are. DC has upsides, they just haven’t had the magic formula yet.”
So what’s Marvel’s secret sauce? Aside from pure audience adoration, “it’s the quality of the content, not the categorization of these movies as superhero movies,” Dergarabedian said. “That’s why they’ve been indestructible. You’re getting a great experience.”
Since its iteration in 2008 with “Iron Man,” Marvel has built up and fine-tuned its identity, “focusing on great stars, great scripts, and great directors,” Bock said.
“They picked the right people,” Bock said of Marvel’s top-notch casting, including Robert Downey Jr., Chris Pratt, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Chadwick Boseman, and Scarlett Johansson. “People already fell in love with these actors and actresses, and then they fall in love with the characters. That kind of consistency in casting goes a long way.”
DC has found the perfect Wonder Woman in Gadot, Bock pointed out, but the casting falters after that. Just look at the memes the sprung up around Ben Affleck’s morose take on Batman, and the rampant speculation that he will soon be retiring the cape and cowl.
“In DC, there is such inconsistencies in those roles,” Bock said. “It’s hard to define who Batman is right now. And how many more do we need? If we need a new Batman, show us something more worthwhile.”
Another win for Marvel is its ability to move forward with new stories. That’s something it has over another iconic franchise — “Star Wars.” While not a comic book genre, the globally revered series has stumbled recently compared to its predecessors.
Prior to “Infinity War,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” had the biggest domestic box office opening of all time with $248 million in 2015 before going on to make $936 million in just North America. The trilogy’s sequel, 2017’s “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” debuted strong with $220 million, but couldn’t keep that same momentum going. Its domestic tally ran out of gas at $620 million.
A lot of that was tied to backlash from fans, who criticized the Rian Johnson-directed sequel for being too jokey and from deviating too wildly from the world of the Force established by George Lucas and paid homage to by “Force Awakens'” J.J. Abrams.
“‘Star Wars’ is working off a different playbook that isn’t as strong at the moment. If they are going to keep it going as long as Marvel, they can’t keep it going in the same direction,” Bock said. “They are working off nostalgia, not quality.”