Inevitably, not long after “Avengers: Endgame” co-director Joe Russo said it didn’t matter if the film fell just shy of the “Avatar” record for (unadjusted) worldwide gross, Disney is returning the film to theaters on June 28. Their excuse? Marvel is adding new footage, including an unspecified tribute. Clearly, Marvel wants to beat James Cameron in the battle of the numbers.
Through Monday, “Endgame” has grossed $831.17 million domestic and $1.91 billon foreign, for a total of $2.74 billion. That compares to $2.79 reached by “Avatar,” mostly in 2010 during its initial release. This past weekend “Endgame” took in about $3.7 million (landing #10), foreign $2.1 million.
20th Century Fox
So that leaves “Endgame” $45 million short. Finally, comparing accumulated film grosses at today’s ticket prices with lower ones for earlier releases is nonsense. The whole competitive exercise serves mainly to satisfy various egos, on the one hand, and to feed a fanbase desire to be #1. The best adjusted gauge –a fairly accurate estimate — has “Titanic” as the most popular film in worldwide theaters ever, “Gone With the Wind” second, with “Avatar” third. James Cameron’s “Avatar” has an adjusted gross somewhere around $3.2 billion.
Under normal conditions, the late-run mop-up grosses for “Endgame” could add about $15 million at most, leaving the movie $30 million shy of “Avatar.” This has to be frustrating for Marvel and company since the “Endgame” massive opening looked to propel the film to at least $900 million domestic, possibly a good deal higher, and a worldwide total of $2.8 billion looked like an easy reach.
The new normal for event films — with maximum number of multiple screens, massive seating options in many theaters, round-the-clock showings on opening weekends, combined with exuberant public interest — is that those who want to see a movie see it early. Did “Endgame” deliver less repeat business than other top all-time films? In any case, the projection of a higher total came from expectations that its later weeks would sustain the movie to attain a higher ultimate gross.
This was the best option for getting past the small $30 million gap for Disney. The film will be available on home viewing platforms under normal patterns starting in July. It already has played 3D and IMAX, so reissues in new formats wouldn’t work (“Titanic” got a boost from its 3D transfer years after its initial release). At just over three hours, the idea of a new extended version is less viable than for many films and might be tricky to produce at such short notice.
Another trick distributors use with a played-out title is to throw it into a second feature in drive ins, then count the resulting gross for both the main and second feature. That’s tough to do with “Endgame,” not only because of its length, but Disney’s upcoming major summer releases, “Toy Story 4” and “The Lion King,” are not ideal matches. (Disney used this gimmick with “A Wrinkle in Time” last summer to push it to $100 million, but only managed to bring in $1.7 million more.)
Disney could use awards season as an excuse to bring “Endgame” back, with new advertising. But the distributor never tried this last year with “Black Panther,” a far more viable contender. And in any event, by November streaming service Disney+ will debut, and “Endgame” would seem be a key draw the studio will want to emphasize at that point.
Finally, the gap may need to be overcome overseas. Maybe Disney can find some rabbit to pull out of a hat in China. But expect them to keep trying to accomplish this. Also expect an increasing number of people to notice how dubious this whole enterprise is.
Next week’s dates will precede the opening of Marvel’s “Spider-Man: Far from Home.” Though it will be released by Sony (it opens July 2), the story and some characters overlap with “Endgame.” So the effort will include some possible residual benefit for that release.