Wow. There’s really no other word for it.
Apologies in advance – this won’t just become a Marvel blog – but this past weekend’s box office performance warrants discussion.
In my lifetime, I remember when opening weekend box office became a big deal: 1997, when “The Lost World” played on basically every movie screen available. It made $74 million in 1997, a huge jump from the previous record-holder, “Batman Forever” ($52 million in 1995). Then, my freshman year of college, the record was reset twice: first, by “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” which made $90 million in 2001, and second by “Spider-Man,” which, by making $114 million in 2002, was the first movie to ever make nine figures in a weekend. The “Spider-Man” record was destined to stand for a long time…until “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” made $135 million in 2006. Then “Spider-Man 3” took back Spidey’s crown, earning a shocking $151 million in 2007 – I say shocking because, remember, five years earlier no movie had ever crossed $100 million, let alone $150. The numbers were starting to be unfathomable, but still, the pace was growing at a relatively reasonable rate.
Opening weekends were and have since become a much bigger part of the overall box office equation – a movie’s “legs” are important, sure, but that opening weekend determines “bomb” or “hit” in a much more blatant way than, say, 20 years ago. Meanwhile, “The Dark Knight” earned $158 million in 2008, the last “Harry Potter” movie earned $169 in 2011, and we were primed for a movie to maybe, possibly, finally hit $200 million in a weekend. And “The Avengers” did it – $207 million in its opening weekend, to be precise. That had to be it – no way were other movies going to hit $200 million again regularly. Again, this was a decade after a movie finally hit $100 million – $200 million had to be considered rarefied air. And so of course the “Avengers” record stood the test of time…all the way until 2015, when “Jurassic World” opened with $208 million. But that record fell pretty quickly, because “The Force Awakens” came out in 2015 and absolutely crushed all previous records – $247 million its opening weekend, and a lifetime total of $936 million (domestic). So, that had to be it, right? In 20 years we went from $52 million to $247 million – certainly well above mere inflation over the same two-decade period. Well, no, there was still seemingly a little more wiggle room: “Infinity War” upped the ante by opening with $257 million in 2018. You can see there have been big jumps – from $114 to $135 to $158 to $169. Even going from “Jurassic World’s” $208 to “Force Awakens” $247 was understandable, given the pent-up demand for “Star Wars” content and the fact that it was essentially a sequel to “Return of the Jedi.”
But, of course, you can see where I’m going with this: even if “Endgame,” the newly-released Avengers movie, was going to break records, you’d have maybe expected $280. Maybe $290. If you were being generous, maybe it would be the first franchise to break an honestly-unthinkable $300 million. But it didn’t do that. No – it made $350 million, shattering the previous record by almost $100 million. Think about that. Just about 18 years ago, people were floored that a movie could make $90 million in a weekend. Now “Avengers” made $96 million…on a Friday. It made $60 million just in Thursday previews. It made $109 million on Saturday, and a not-too-shabby $84 million on Sunday.
It’s mind-boggling, and unfathomable, and – yet – I’d be a fool to say, “well, this is the record that can’t be broken.” Every time I’ve thought that in the past (see above), I’ve been proven wrong. But this is leaps and bounds above normal expectations. A cursory Google search tells me the fastest mile ever ran was 3 minutes, 43 seconds. For a long period of time, a 4-minute mile was unheard of, but clearly we live in an era where sub-4 is now attainable. You’d imagine that the next best times would be something like 3 minutes and 41 seconds, maybe 3 minutes and 39 seconds – once you’re getting to such an elite level, it’s going to be hard to shave off even fractions of a second. What “Endgame” did, and what you have to appreciate in terms of how much modern cinema and movie-going has changed, is akin to running a sub 3-minute mile.
I don’t know what would be next to break “Endgame”‘s record: maybe “Rise of Skywalker,” which is for all intents and purposes the last “Star Wars” movie. But honestly – “Endgame” may be a once-in-a-lifetime event for people of my generation, where the entire pop culture landscape was dominated by just one thing. For so long, we’ve heard about the fracturing of pop culture: from three broadcast networks to four, to the rise of cable, to the rise of premium cable, to Netflix and Hulu, etc. There’s not going to be a “MASH” finale-level event where all of our TVs are dialed in on the same channel – even the Superbowl at best draws 100-something million viewers, not the majority of the country. But “Endgame” seems to be that rare movie that cracked through and created, for a weekend, a monoculture.
I have no dog in this fight – I mean, I suppose full disclosure, I own one lone share of Disney stock that was given to me well before Disney ever acquired Pixar and Lucasfilm and Marvel – but I’m just astounded. The sheer tonnage of box office receipts for this movie has made me a temporary box office pundits. (Don’t worry – in the future, I’ll leave it to the professionals.)
Spoilers for those who haven’t seen it, but honestly, the truest words Thanos may have said the whole movie can really be summed up by the crazy box office weekend we just got: “I am inevitable.”
Note: All figures cited courtesy of BoxOfficeMojo.com