As “Avengers: Endgame” prepares to fall short of the domestic box office total of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” we should ask who has the better movie fans. Are Star Wars fans better than Marvel fans?Continue reading Who Has the Better Fans: Marvel or Star Wars?
“Avengers: Endgame” is smashing records like Hulk smashed everything in his many movie and TV appearances. Above all, it’s performing well in China where it’s close enough to all-time records to be mentioned in the same breath as homegrown favorites like “The Wandering Earth.”
The fact that “The Wandering Earth debuted in February and had the highest IMAX gross, which was then beaten by Avengers, creates an interest in seeing the movie. Endgame could gross more in China than “The Wandering Earth” and creating an even greater interest in seeing the Chinese film. If it was that good, it must be worth seeing, and for those who want to be able to say anything intelligent about the heavyweight duel overseas, they’ll have to find a way to see ‘The Wandering Earth” and find out what made it such a huge hit in China. In steps Netflix to fill the gap.
By promoting it as something people can see, Netflix is effectively able to use the free advertising generated by the comparison between “The Wandering Earth” and Endgame to get views of a Chinese film most wouldn’t ordinarily even find to watch much less consider. If Netflix or other streaming services begin to capitalize on the comparisons that go on with box office incomes, we could see a slew of international films gaining steam first through streaming. Once Americans get used to seeing foreign films with subtitles, there’ll be no stopping the influx of new and better films.
Even if those foreign film studios are as mired in sequel-itis as U.S. studios are, the stories and concepts will be new and more original to U.S. audiences. That’s good for storytelling and creativity because foreign films can introduce different ideas and viewpoints into American culture. For now, Netflix gains with having “The Wandering Earth” available to stream, and having one more way to create buzz through using another studios success.
Marvel has misled us before with its trailers. They have shown clips that didn’t make it in the movie: Remember the Hulk in the Battle of Wakanda? It was in the trailer but not in the movie. Marvel has also created trailers that showed scenes from the first 30 minutes and nothing else. (I think it was “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”) They’ve kept entire stories under wraps, except when Tom Holland has spilled the beans, and apparently Holland didn’t get the entire script for “Avengers: Endgame.”
What if this is what they’re doing now? These trailers could be from the first hour of the movie leaving the last two hours under wraps while we all pontificate over the details.
What are we going to see? Two and a half hours of Avengers assembling? This isn’t a Lego movie, and we already did that in “The Avengers.” Two and half hours of Tony Stark lost in space? This isn’t a sequel to “Gravity,” and Robert Downey, Jr. is no George Clooney. Two and a half hours of a “Fantastic Voyage through Inner Space”? We’ve been to the Quantum Realm; Marvel wouldn’t take us there again for the same meta-reason Doctor Strange didn’t use his Dormammu-bargaining time loop with Thanos.
They have to show the Avengers avenging to pay off Tony Stark’s assertion that “If we can’t protect the Earth, you can be damn sure we’ll avenge it.” So far, the Avengers haven’t done any avenging. They protected the Earth on two occasions. They have to recruit Hawkeye/Ronin. They have to get Nebula and Tony Stark back. They may face trip through the Quantum Realm. They may get transported through space by Captain Marvel.
But we’ve already seen them battle Thanos. We’ve seen them in their glory, even if they didn’t win, even if it was without Captain Marvel. We’ve seen them going after the Mad Titan. Marvel isn’t going to make a three-hour long film about something they’ve already done. A battle they win against Thanos can’t be any more exciting than the one they already loss. We might as well plug in the Battle of Helm’s Deep. If Marvel wants to score more than just the largest opening weekend ever, it’s going to need to do something new. The addition of Captain Marvel and some time travel mumbo-jumbo isn’t it.
Which brings us to the Endgame… The Gamemaster, Red Skull, ADAM from Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Collector are presumably still around. Any of these characters could figure into the plot, especially considering that Jeff Goldblum and Benicio del Toro are big enough names not to waste on a couple of cameos and a theme park attraction. Maybe there’s a villain we haven’t seen manipulating Thanos and events.
Where does the story go after Thanos? I doubt if a second meeting and subsequent defeating of Thanos will be satisfying enough to justify three hours of film, and if that’s the case and “Avengers: Endgame” is only about beating Thanos, it could have a short and financially disappointing theater run. Then again, what if that Hulk scene in Wakanda was filmed for “Avengers: Endgame”?
In his examination of Disney’s “Dumbo,” “Forbes” writer Scott Mendelson laments the Disney Company’s penchant for releasing big budget films that have already been made, including the live-action remakes of animated classics and the multiple sequels that Disney has released over the course of roughly the last decade, and while he acknowledges that the studios are in part to blame, he also lays the blame on movie goers. “The studios can’t responsibly green-light what they know audiences will not go to see in theaters.”
The Dollars and Sense of It All
In 1984, when Michael Eisner became CEO of the Disney Company, the top grossing movie was “Beverly Hills Cop” with almost $235 million and $316 million worldwide. Disney’s movie releases were in the tank and not making what they should be with a few exceptions. In 1984, Touchstone’s “Splash” opened at No. 1 on the chart and grossed over $69 million (Box Office Mojo) by the time it finished its run; it cost $8 million to make. The film was a huge success at the time, and it brought in about $62 million profit.
Eisner looked at the situation and decided that Disney and its movie making companies would make smaller budget films that would make money rather than hope for a summer blockbuster that could fail. They were going to hit singles rather than try for homeruns. In 1986, “Ruthless People,” “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” and “The Color of Money” were released with grosses of $71, $62 and $52 million making them the 9th, 11th and 12th highest grossing movies of the year. Eisner’s strategy was successful, and Disney carved out a niche with these low budget, over-performing types of films.
Flash forward to 2018 and the surprise hit (not Disney) “A Quiet Place.” With a budget of $17 million dollars, this is the type of film Disney would’ve happily made in the 1980s. The movie made $340 million dollars worldwide ($323 million profit). Marvel’s “Black Panther” cost about $200 million to make and brought in over $1.3 billion; domestically, it was the top grossing film of the year. It would take about three “A Quiet Place” size releases to make the same amount of profit as “Black Panther.” However, “Black Panther” was a surprise in its own way.
Marvel’s sure thing for the year was “The Avengers: Infinity War” – a sequel, which according to the just over $2 billion box office gross, you’re probably familiar with. The estimates for the cost of the film run between $300 million and $400 million. Even on the high side of the estimate, the film brought in $1.6 billion, or the rough equivalent of five “A Quiet Places.”
I understand these numbers aren’t exact. There are marketing costs to consider as well as what the actual theaters make, which is different depending on the country. However, the point is it doesn’t make any sense for a company that brings in $12.6 billion (2018 net income) to worry about $10 or $20 million, the budget of “A Quiet Place” for a return of only $323 million. As Mendelson pointed out, Disney had taken risks with “Tomorrowland” (profit at a scant $20 million), “The Finest Hours” (losses estimated at $20 million), and “The Queen of Katwe” (estimated loss of $5 million). These movies didn’t return enough profit to justify their existence.
Other Sources of Income
When “Star Trek” dolls were released and the series ended, the sales of the toys dried up as well. There wasn’t anyway to remind people about the purpose of the toys without the show. When “Star Trek: The Next Generation” returned the Star Trek universe to television, toy sales skyrocketed.
In 1983, Funimation released “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” after Reagan deregulated children’s programming. The show was designed to sell He-Man action figures. Once it made it on the air and He-Man sales sky-rocketed every toy company got involved in Saturday Morning Cartoons: “Transformers,” “Go-Bots,” “M.A.S.K.,” “Jem and the Holograms,” and “G.I. Joe” to name a few. Whether the show or the action figures came first is of little consequence, what mattered was that some of the cartoons were pulled from the air not because of the cartoons’ popularity, but because the toys lacked sales.
Disney’s synergistic approach to marketing means the media giant isn’t looking just at the movies. It’s also looking at what it can make from tie-ins. Dumbo’s new movie release, regardless of how it’s received, sells more stuffed Dumbos. Marvel’s movies sell more superhero action figures, Lego sets, and whatever else they put their characters on. These things all bring in more money. Disney princesses outsell Barbie now are a multi-billion-dollar market segment. Their inclusion in “Ralph Breaks the Internet” keeps them fresh, updates them for this generation and keeps the product moving. The Disney company not only needs to create movie sequels and remakes because they are smaller financial risks, but also because they sell more toys, products and Disney park experiences.
What’s It All Mean?
There’s no incentive for Disney to green-light smaller film projects, even if they become the next “A Quiet Place.” The movie industry can only stand so many new films before there aren’t enough movie-goers to see them all. Worse, people say they want new stories, but they only think they want new stories. Audiences still flock to their favorite characters and movie franchises because its an acceptable risk. To spend $10 to $15 on a movie that you may not like or know nothing about doesn’t make much sense when you know that Marvel (or DC or Pixar) has a release right around the corner.
Moreover, Disney can make more money from product friendly franchises that it can tie into its theme parks than it ever could from a movie that has to stand on its own two legs. This all becomes more problematic with Disney’s recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox, and it’s looming control of 40 to 50 percent of the box office. The studios will have to schedule movies so they don’t cut into each other’s profits, which will mean fewer movies and fewer opportunities for a smaller film to get made.
For more on the Disney Company, preorder “Penguinate! The Disney Company.”
The problem with “Avengers: Infinity War” is the way it ended and what we knew about the next Marvel movies. Basically, Thanos’ snap eliminated the newest half of the Marvel Universe, including most of Ant-Man’s allies, leaving the old heroes to find a way to avenge the snap, which would fit in perfectly with what Tony Stark told Loki in the first Avengers film and serve as a way to tie the franchise together.
However, the upcoming movie slate after Infinity War includes “Spider-Man: Far from Home” (eliminating the emotional impact of his demise in Infinity War), “Black Panther” (which could possibly give rise to a female Black Panther because T’challa was dusted), “Guardians of the Galaxy 3” (though James Gunn departure after a controversy left this in doubt, Kevin Feige says it’s still on; it could team Rocket with the Reavers and/or Nebula) and “Doctor Strange 2” (which at this point I don’t have an observations on, except its Benedict Cumberbatch, and Mysterio looks like he uses magic).
With all of these movies, and the stars whose contracts are expiring – Chris Evans (Captain America), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) and Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) – as well as the apparent good byes and statements that some won’t be returning to the roles, there is no way for the Marvel Universe to continue without a complete reversal of an entire movie. This seems like it has all kinds of potential to go lame though that type of action has happened before – most notably in the last episode of “Twin Peaks” season 3.
One twist for Endgame could turn the Marvel Universe on its head. What if all the characters that died were the ones to survive, and the audience saw the dusting from the characters’ who actually died point of view? This would mean Rocket died, which would make sense because it has already been stated that he doesn’t have a long lifespan as a raccoon. It would also mean that Bruce Banner is dead, but the hulk isn’t necessarily dead. This type of reveal would make it easier to accept the Nick Fury/Spider-Man alliance. It could be interesting to see how the old characters deal with the reality of their demise while the mirror splits back to the new characters who did actually survive.
At this point though, “Avengers: Endgame,” which releases on April 26, 2019, lacks the stakes that Infinity War had during its run. The new characters are going to come back, and no one will be surprised when the old characters die. Marvel has more creative people than me working for it, and just because the general outcome of the movie is known doesn’t mean it won’t be good. But because we already know so much about it beyond the movie itself, it may not be engaging, especially if Peter Parker comes back and is threatened with death again. He’s already got a movie coming out, and it has a trailer. (Check out other movie related posts.)