Looking in the rearview to one year ago, it’s time to celebrate something that will likely never happen again. It feels like a lifetime since Disney released Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame,” the biggest-grossing film in the storied Marvel Cinematic Universe, the top global box-office performer not only of 2019 but the 21st century—and likely to remain so. When we slowly emerge from the pandemic, it will not be business as usual. There will be fewer — and emptier — theaters. Even for Marvel tentpoles.
The “Endgame” box office reminds us, in this time of uncertainty over the future of the theatrical movie model, the heights that the ultimate blockbuster can achieve. When the theatrical pump is primed and functioning at its best, a well-reviewed, exquisitely playable franchise finale like “Endgame” can score $2.8 billion worldwide.
Fact is, a blockbuster like “Endgame” is an engine that pulls other movies along. It greased the entire exhibition machine for less enormous but commercial 2019 smashes like “Us” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” as well as buzzy word-of-mouth hits like “Little Women” and “Parasite.”
This working apparatus for wide-releasing movies has been in place, of course, since the 70s, adding more screens over time so that “Endgame” could not only break the all-time opening weekend record — domestic ($357 million), foreign ($843 million) and worldwide ($1.2 billion) —but recoup both its production and global marketing expenses ($650 million) in one fell swoop. (A rare feat indeed.) Never have so many paying attendees showed up for a first weekend. That’s about 30-35 million moviegoers in North America, with likely over 100 million worldwide.
Compare that to other hit offerings such as Netflix’s recent documentary series sensation “Tiger King.” Per the streamer’s unverified estimates, 34 million people viewed at least part of it over its first ten days in the U.S. That’s roughly the same as “Endgame,” but over three times as long a period, during an unusual period when monthly Netflix subscribers were stuck at home in lockdown. With relatively minimal production and marketing costs.
Then look at our estimated figures for “Troll Worlds Tour” (Universal), a premium VOD offering at $19.99. So far the consensus number for its domestic purchases ranges from three to five million. At the high end, that’s $100 million in over two weeks. If you guess five million and an average of three viewers, that’s 15 million watchers over a much longer period. Again while it’s considered successful, that’s a small number compared to what “Endgame” managed by luring people to leave their homes.
“Endgame” with its $2.8 billion gross worldwide, the biggest ever, was not only the key event of last year, but it also lifted all boats and helped to keep the theatrical model going. And the 2019 box office wasn’t just all Disney all the time. A range of original titles also thrived last year— “Knives Out,” “Hustlers,” “Ford v Ferrari,” “1917,” and “Invisible Man” —among other standalones.
Going forward, folks in Hollywood don’t know whether any movies will ever be produced at the budget-level of “Endgame” — a sure thing if there ever was one — or how many theaters will be around for them to play in. That leaves some comfort in knowing that a year after “Endgame,” the most watched film this weekend came from its directors, the Russo brothers. “Extraction,” starring Chris “Thor” Hemsworth has been #1 on Netflix since its debut Friday. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
April 24-26, 2019
1. Avengers: Endgame (Disney) NEW – Cinemascore: A+; Metacritic: 77; Est. budget: $375 million
$357,157,000 in 4,662 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $75,075; Cumulative: $357,157,000