Can ‘Captain Marvel’ Save the Box Office?

Captain Marvel” is gearing up to recharge the box office.

Marvel’s upcoming comic-book adventure starring Brie Larson is heading toward a massive debut, and is expected to earn over $125 million when it launches this weekend across 4,100 North American locations. Some box office sages predict that number could soar north of $145 million over its first three days of release. If those estimates hold, “Captain Marvel” will deliver the first triple-digit opening weekend of the year and the best start for a standalone superhero film since Marvel’s “Black Panther” ($202 million). “Captain Marvel” will also ignite the international box office this weekend when it opens in all major territories except Japan, where it debuts later this month.

Expectations are sky-high for “Captain Marvel,” and the comic-book empire’s first standalone movie to spotlight a female heroine couldn’t be arriving at a better time. This February has been glacial compared to the same frame last year when “Black Panther” delivered a record-shattering debut, and revenues for the month hit the lowest sum in 17 years. So far, the year has been free of blockbusters, causing domestic ticket sales to plummet more than 25% from 2018, according to Comscore. While Universal and DreamWorks’ “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” and STX’s “The Upside” beat expectations, movies like Fox’s “The Kid Who Would Be King” and Warner Bros.’ “The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part” failed to draw the kind of crowds that could put the minds of theater owners at ease as streaming services like Netflix continue to lure audiences away from their local multiplex. Marvel is hoping the 21st entry in its Cinematic Universe can change that.

“It’s been a little bit of a slow start for the industry,” said Tim League, CEO and founder of Alamo Drafthouse. “There has been a pent-up blockbuster demand that hasn’t been there since the holidays. We feel that small lull in the market.”

Theaters like Alamo Drafthouse are pulling out all the stops to capitalize on Marvel fever. Alamo Drafthouse isn’t just rolling out the red-and-blue carpet with custom merchandise and exclusive posters. The specialized cinema chain is also preparing a Marvel-themed menu, consisting of items like Binary Brie Pizza (a culinary nod to the film’s star) and cocktails such as Fury of the S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Force of Our Stars, for fans to nosh on while watching Larson fight intergalactic, bright-skinned baddies. Going the extra mile to get fans buzzing has paid off. League says Alamo pre-sale tickets have been the most robust since “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Black Panther.” Fandango has also seen a boost in interest surrounding the heroine. The movie ticketing service reported that “Captain Marvel” has had the biggest advanced pre-sales for any other film since the release of “Avengers: Infinity War” last April.

“We put Thursday preview shows out and the first round sold out in minutes. We had to scramble to add more,” League said. “That’s setting the stage for an incredibly strong opening for us.”

Few studios rival Marvel in terms of consistency: The Disney-owned studio fielded three massive blockbusters in 2018. Prior to “Captain Marvel,” the comic-book empire’s most recent movie was “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” which earned $75 million in its domestic debut and went on to gross $622 million globally. Its success came on the heels of “Avengers: Infinity War,” the superhero mashup that boasts the highest-grossing opening weekend of all time. “Black Panther,” the first superhero movie to feature a predominately African American cast, launched just a few months prior and became the highest-grossing movie of the year in North America. By focusing on a diverse group of heroes, Marvel has been able to satisfy fans with hit after hit.

For some moviegoers, “Captain Marvel” is a long time coming. The entertainment industry has been slow to realize that comic-book enthusiasts extend beyond just fanboys. “Captain Marvel” is only the second comic book movie, following DC’s “Wonder Woman,” to center on a female protagonist. Director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot proved there’s an appetite for female superheroes after the film debuted with a mighty $103 million domestically, and ended its box office run with $412 million in North America and $821 million worldwide. These movies continue to prove the power of representation, said Jenna Busch, founder of Legion of Leia, a division of the online site Vital Thrills that highlights women in sci-fi.

“[Hollywood] just didn’t take into account how many woman love this stuff,” she said. “Of course, people are excited about representation, but they’re also excited to just see a superhero with an exciting backstory.”

“Captain Marvel” reviews have been generally enthusiastic, with Variety’s Owen Gleiberman saying “Brie Larson lights up a Marvel superheroine film from within.” Not all critics have been as receptive (IndieWire’s David Ehrlich called it “a frustrating disappointment.”) Even so, superhero enthusiasts aren’t a bunch that are typically swayed by reviews.

“I have heard so many fans say that they read negative critiques of a superhero film, and it made them want to see it more,” Busch said. “In the end, sometimes with superhero films, I think it’s about the attention films getting more than whether or not it’s getting good or bad reviews.”

Recently, comic-book movies have become just as infallible as the costumed heroes themselves. Marvel still reigns far supreme when it comes to all things super, but over the course of the past year, it hasn’t just been producer Kevin Feige and crew serving up success stories. Superhero fatigue has become something of an oxymoron over the past few months as even poorly-reviewed titles like Sony’s “Venom” and Warner Bros.’ “Aquaman” have enjoyed the kind of returns that had once been reserved for entries in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. “Venom” generated $80 million during its opening weekend and ended its theatrical run with a mighty $855 million, while “Aquaman” bowed to $67 million and has since pocketed over $1.14 billion.

“Captain Marvel” is set in 1995 and follows Larson as Carol Danvers, an Air Force pilot who becomes one of the universe’s most powerful heroes as she finds herself at the center of a galactic war between two alien races. The star-studded cast also includes Jude Law, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Gemma Chan, and Annette Bening. Though “Captain Marvel” is Larson’s first on-screen appearance, the heroine was teased at the end of “Avengers: Infinity War” and is assumed to play a big part in the highly anticipated follow-up, “Avengers: Endgame,” which hits theaters this summer.

“Captain Marvel” was helmed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, making it the first Marvel movie to have a female director. Boden and Fleck, the filmmakers behind indies such as “Half Nelson,” “Sugar,” and “Mississippi Grind,” wrote the movie with Geneva Robertson-Dworet.

As expected, studios steered clear of launching a movie in the wake of “Captain Marvel.” Without any new nationwide releases, a number of holdovers including Universal’s “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” and “Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral” should fill out domestic box office charts. Just make sure they stay out of Carol Danvers’ path.