Sequelitis, a three-hour running time, tracking projections, nor the ceilings of previous box office records were a challenge to Disney/Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame, which is turning an unprecedented $350M-$354M domestic opening. Like Thanos himself, the Anthony and Joe Russo Brothers-directed movie raged and ripped up box office records, like a fingersnap made by the purple guy himself.
For all the doubt over whether a $300M+ opening was possible, the fact of the matter is that it was always possible. It was just a matter of when.
The reason why is that the exhibition infrastructure at 12K auditoriums (some even believe it was more this weekend) was always there, plus exhibition’s ability to meet demand in this digital age by adding showtimes well into the wee hours of the morning, thus swelling cash. Add to the fact that 41% of the audience decided to watch Endgame in a premium way either in Imax, PLF or 3D formats, which carry high ticket prices of $20 or more, whether it was in New York, NY or Valencia, CA.
When Deadline first projected Star Wars: Force Awakens five months before its release back in 2015, our sources believed that movie would hit $300M (we were $52M off; oh, so close…). But the point is the math: The exhibition eco-system is in place for a such a mind-boggling amount of money to be made in US/Canada. And that goes for the rest of the world, because this Avengers sequel played everywhere from China to Brazil.
“The digital cinema revolution allows theater owners a flexibility in programming their screens they never had before,” said NATO Vice President & Chief Communications Officer Patrick Corcoan, “Any movie, any time of day, was available to them on whatever screens they need. The industry can ratchet up or down to match demand.”
Most importantly, with infrastructure, you need the right event film to pull off these numbers.
“This is the culmination of one of the most cherished franchises in pop culture, and Marvel has been building toward for more than a decade. They’ve layered and deepened the universe that people cared and loved, and our fans and moviegoers showed up for it. We couldn’t be more grateful and thrilled, and a moment like this proves that the movie theaters are a vibrant part of the movie experience,” said Cathleen Taff, Disney president of distribution and franchise management.
Infinity War set up a cliffhanger with greater stakes than Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. This created such a need-to-see that some people took Friday off from work: Nobody wanted to read on social any details about Endgame, and some fans (in Hong Kong) went to extremes. Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy, aka Shady, was trolled on social media for posting spoilers multiple times.
“ Avengers: Endgame is over a decade of Marvel storytelling coming to fruition. With each film, fans worldwide have become more connected with these beloved characters, and there was an inherent need to see it through to the end. At every point, from the trailer drop to tickets going on sale, this was clearly a cinematic event that could not be missed. It’s not a question of whether you are going to see it – it’s how many times are you going to see it,” said Megan Colligan, president, Imax Entertainment and EVP Imax Corporation.
In regards to Endgame working in the rest of the world with a global bow of $1.2B, international film business sources peg that success to emerging middle classes throughout Latin America, China, Asia and Eastern Europe who have more disposal income. Combine that with the surge of multiplexes in offshore territories, higher ticket prices due to PLF, 3D and IMAX theaters, and the confluence of the aforementioned leads to a larger worldwide gross potential. Brazil, because of its population size, will never have enough screens to meet demand, and therefore, there will always be the need to expand there. Southeast Asia is also blossoming.
“People around the world are streaming out of their homes in staggering numbers to all do the same thing – watch a movie, in a movie theater. More than 30 million people in the US, 100 million people around the world – this is the beginning of the pay-off to a decade-long bet on the power of the movie theater experience.” added Corcoran about Endgame.
Another clue that Endgame was bound to be a monster hit: Those enormous ticket pre-sales. Fandango, Atom Tickets, and big chains like AMC and Regal broke 24-hour records that were held by either Force Awakens or Infinity War.
Before the curtain rose on Endgame, Fandango reported that it was their biggest pre-seller in the history of the company. AMC servers crashed on day one of sales. Fandango’s one day ticket record for Force Awakens was beaten in the first six hours. Industry insiders informed Deadline that Endgame banked between $120M-$140M in pre-sales before the pic hit the screen, beating Force Awakens total of $100M. That made sense: 61% of the audience bought their tickets online versus 37% at the multiplex per ComScore/Screen Engine, while Endgame became the fastest pic to cross $100M in 17 hours, beating Force Awakens’ 21-hour record.
“From an IMAX perspective, pre-sales were through the roof, with our domestic pre-sales tracking nearly double ahead of Infinity War, and IMAX accounting for roughly 25% of all China pre-sales. The film has surpassed our worldwide opening weekend record before the weekend even began,” added Colligan. The large format exhibitor has been a Marvel partner from the onset; Endgame was the second pic after Infinity War to be shot entirely in IMAX.
However, as exhibitors added more showtimes, Endgame did indeed suck most of the air out of the marketplace, with a war of attrition in regards to screens. As Endgame marked the widest release ever at 4,662, such pics as Hellboy lost 2,376 theaters in its third weekend; Aviron’s After shed 1,531; and Pet Sematary lost 1,491 in weekend 4.
Meanwhile, Disney’s own Captain Marvel jumped to the No. 2 spot from 4 last weekend, benefiting from Endgame with a $8M eighth weekend and $413.5M running cume.
More indicators of Endgame‘s success: social media wattage. Both Endgame trailers were two of the most-watched of all, respectively clocking 24-hour massive views of 289M on Dec. 7 and 268M on March 14. The pic’s social media universe, per RelishMix, is second to Infinity War‘s with 2.45 billion followers across Instagram (223.6M), Twitter (1.8B), Facebook fans, video views (198.3M+87.6M) and YouTube views. This blows away the social media universes of other big campaigns, such as Fate of the Furious (1.8BN), Beauty and the Beast (1.3BN) and Despicable Me 3 (1.2BN). Keep in mind that Endgame‘s SMU is exclusive to the pic and doesn’t duplicate Infinity War’s 1.2BN YouTube clips, not to mention Black Panther, Captain Marvel and other recent MCU hits.
“For Endgame’s key social metrics, the Marvel campaign has exceeded engagement norms once again,” reports RelishMix. “The movie’s viral rate is 49:1, or 986 earned domestic clips in relation to 20 owned Marvel videos. The superhero movie norm is 37:1 by time of opening. Similarly, Endgame is earning over 9.2K new Facebook fans daily compared to the genre benchmark of 3.9K. But most impressive is the 554K average daily YouTube views for top clips, which is heads and above the genre’s typical 187K.” Twitter hashtags for the film were also exceptional over the last week with 120k-230k per day range “which is an anomaly” says RelishMix. The social star of Endgame per RelishMix is Robert Downey, Jr. With 73.4M followers followed by Chris Hemsworth (39.8M) and most of the cast from Chadwick Boseman to Brie Larson, from Sebastian Stan to Gwenyth Paltrow.
Then there was the marketing might of Disney working through various tentacles of its vertically integrated conglom and beyond. Downey Jr., Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson came together for Universe Unites II on April 5, a charity event that celebrated the donation of $5M to children’s charities at Disney’s California Adventure, and was moderated by Bob Iger. Event featured custom activations/giveaways from the Amazon Treasure Truck, Hasbro, Ubtech, Funko, Lego.
The media digital blitz on this event featured the debut of THE MOST Twitter Emojis for any brand (40x), debut of two-minute “To The End” culmination pieces that gave fans all the feels, and custom integrations, such as “Gronk’s Endgame.” Endgame was further propped by the biggest marketing partner campaign of all-time for any Marvel title with over $200M in media. There was an unparalleled 22 MCU movie marathons that kicked off in 12 locations on April 23 with a runtime of 47 total hours leading up to Endgame on Thursday night.
And what about tracking? Why didn’t they notice the size of Endgame‘s opening in advance? That’s often the question. Fact is, they definitely knew it was gargantuan. However, because the sampling of pics opening to $100M-plus is small at 55 titles, predicting such heights becomes imprecise for anyone. Endgame‘s success hearkens back to an old rule of thumb in the distribution business: You can comp all you want to older titles heading into the weekend, but once that film opens, it becomes a beast on its own.
With Endgame raising the B.O. bar to such a lofty heights for all films being released going forward, the questions now become: Does the domestic marketplace have the power to open a movie to $400M? Will we ever see an opening like this again?