Note to reader: this is spoiler FREE!
Superhero films are a critical part of Hollywood’s survival right now. They’re nostalgic, flashy, exciting, and — in a weird way — relatable. They focus on human flaws and weaknesses, whether that comes in the form of Carol Danvers’ unknown past or Star-Lord’s half-human “stupidity.” While theaters need more than an endless string of caped heroes with superpowers to stay afloat, there’s no doubt that films like “Captain Marvel” and “Shazam!” are helping to keep the cinemas open.
But even with films like these bolstering it, the 2019 box office stood 17% lower than the same point in 2018 in the third week of April, just days before “Avengers: Endgame” was released. Since then, that film has unquestionably done its part to help boost the 2019 box office from a flop to a success. The long-anticipated blockbuster brought closure to the first 22 movies of the Marvel cinematic universe, wrapped up the storylines for several characters, and absolutely blew away the box office in the process. The only question at this point is: is it enough?
The Struggle for the Youth
The truth is, even with tentpole movies coming out every few months, the concept of “going to the movies” just isn’t what it once was. There was a time when people regularly hit up their local theaters regardless of what was playing. They’d pick from the available selection, grab some popcorn, and settle into their seats to experience novel new surprise each time. But that attitude is slowly shifting. The people who go to the movies purely because it’s an activity that they enjoy is rapidly aging. It’s the same issue that Major League Baseball has been facing for a long time now where, for example, participation in Little League in the last few years has dropped 41% from what it was in 2002. It’s an old man’s game (male viewership dominating at 70%!) that isn’t connecting with the younger generations.
In the modern day, the true blockbuster flicks are marked by a much different tone: fan power. Theaters do their best when fans deliberately come to watch a movie that they already know they want to see on the big screen. It’s exactly why a film like “Captain Marvel” was able to do so well while the 2019 “Hellboy” reboot was practically dead on arrival. The former had all of the star-studded power of Marvel Studios behind it — not to mention “Avengers: Endgame” in front of it — while “Hellboy,” well, nobody had asked for that. Nobody had been prepped for that. To put it simply, no one cared.
The Wild Success of “Avengers: Endgame”
While the 2019 box office had seen a few moderate successes in the first quarter of the year, the arrival of “Avengers: Endgame” in late April proved to be exactly the steroid shot that the industry needed to get those ticket sales up. Right up front, the film promised to do well. It broke the Fandango’s first-day pre-sales record in just six hours, and in the first week racked up more pre-sales on Atom Tickets than “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” “Aquaman,” “Captain Marvel,” and “Avengers: Infinity War” combined. Not only that, but it doubled their collective total.
Once the film was released and the opening weekend figures began rolling in, critics and fans alike were absolutely blown away by the numbers. The film had garnered a whopping $350 million in North America alone — breaking the single day record with $157 million on Friday in the process. When the dust settled it had climbed to a staggering $1.2 billion in global ticket sales — and this was all just during the opening weekend. The numbers nearly doubled the previous record, which was held by the film’s predecessor “Avengers: Infinity War.”
Past Superhero Flops
Just to make one thing clear before getting too much further, the magic here doesn’t simply come from the superhero formula. While heroes flying around in capes are certainly popular these days, the superhero flick approach isn’t anything new, and it’s seen some pretty nasty flunks in the past. From 1984’s “SuperGirl” to 2011’s “Green Lantern,” the movie industry has seen its fair share of super-flops over time. So what is it, then, that has made Marvel’s stream of films — and especially their Avengers franchise — so incredibly successful? And can it save the box office for the long term?
Substance over Style
The funny thing is, there were several things about “Avengers: Endgame” that would have seemed to go against the grain of a successful movie a decade or two ago. It was wildly overcrowded with characters, packed to the brim with confusing and complex storylines, extremely long, and niche in its superhero focus.
But if there’s one thing that the modern movie market appreciates, it’s substance over style. “Endgame” represented a finale, a conclusion, and not just for a short series of films, but for multiple franchises that spanned over a decade. There were countless people behind the scenes, like Marvel boss Kevin Feige, co-directors Joe and Anthony Russo, and actors Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, who have poured an entire chunk of their lives into building up this movie and the universe that surrounds it. The lifework of these entertainers was embodied in the film, which is something that few other movies can lay claim to — and fans were very aware of as they flocked to watch the movie.
A Brave New (Cinematic) World
The point of all of this is that, with the success of streaming services growing by the day, Hollywood can’t rest in an Avengers-induced coma if it wants to keep theaters running. The truth is, even a multi-billion dollar success — as “Endgame” is certainly destined to become — isn’t going to be enough to save theaters in the long-term. Instead, filmmakers need to learn the right lessons from “Endgame” and focus their efforts on creating quality films that draw crowds on their own merit.
It seems like they’ve already caught onto the trend, as films like “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” “Hobbs and Shaw,” “Toy Story 4,” “Spider-Man: Far From Home” and a host of other nostalgic crowd-pleasers are heading our way as the rest of the 2019 movie season unfolds. Here’s hoping it’s enough to keep the “Endgame” boost going.
Image Source: Pixabay