This weekend only one event held nation’s attention within its iron grip, an epic matchup that legions had waited years to see, a mano-a-mano slugfest for the ages: Hulk versus — actually, you’re right, Mayweather-Pacquiao was pretty big, too. It broke cable systems around the country. But aside from that — oh, we shouldn’t forget Clippers-Spurs Game 7. Like, damn, Chris Paul, even haters can’t fault you after that. But aside from those two must-see events, the only other thing anyone even remotely cared about this weekend was — well, there was the Kentucky Derby, too. Seriously, American Pharoah has a legit shot at the Triple Crown now.
OK. Besides all of that, Marvel also released a movie. Maybe you heard of it: Avengers? Ultron? Ring a bell? Yes, Avengers: Age of Ultron made close to ALL the money at the domestic box office this weekend: $187.7 million. Truly, if the American box office were a horse race, Avengers would have beat its next competitor by the length of the Belmont: The Age of Adaline clocked in at no. 2 with $6.2 million. So why are all the pundits tempering their praise with a dash of condolences, when the only winner at the box office this weekend was …
Winner: The Age of Marvel
Let’s be Waterford crystal–clear about this: Marvel1 didn’t just win the box office, it made the box office this weekend. Almost entirely on its own, Ultron’s Hulk-busting haul boosted the North American box office 47.3 percent over that of this weekend last year — when The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opened at $91.6 million — to an obscene $227 million.2 You want to talk triple crowns? Marvel now owns the top three opening weekends of all time, thanks to Age of Ultron, the original Avengers, and Iron Man 3. Not only that, but Ultron’s $84.5 million Friday bested The Avengers’ opening Friday, marking the second-biggest single day of all time after only the Harry Potter finale ($91 million). When all is said and done, Scott Mendelson at Forbes reckons Ultron could clock at in anywhere between $416 million and $506 million, which even on the low end should put it on the leaderboard among the all-time domestic top 10.
Marvel and Grantland are both owned by the Walt Disney Company.
Marvel made more than 80 percent of the money there was to make at the North American box office this weekend.
And Avengers: Age of Ultron has not only conquered most of the planet to the truly sick tune of $626.7 million worldwide, it also hasn’t even opened in China (or Japan) yet. You know, China — the country where 2015’s previous box office juggernaut, Furious 7, just outperformed its own American release? Even with a massive $250 million budget — and who knows how many more hundreds of millions in marketing — Age of Ultron should be nothing less than a fire hose of profit. Marvel’s superhero Dirty Dozen will likely summit at Mount Billion in the next week or so; in fact, it’s already pushed corporate parent Walt Disney Studios across the $1 billion mark at the international box office. In short, Avengers: Age of Ultron made just so much money. So much there’s almost nothing to compare it to.
Loser: Bragging Rights
Almost. Because there is one other film against which you can judge Avengers: Age of Ultron, and that is the original Avengers, which held on to the record for best opening weekend ever at $207.4 million. No matter how close it is, the difference between first and second might as well be the Grand Canyon when it comes to the only currency Hollywood values above actual cash: bragging rights. Going into the weekend, even cautious prognosticators speculated about a possible $210 million opening weekend — astronomical expectations, yes, but this is Marvel Studios we’re talking about. And the relative naysayers still figured $190 million was close to certain. After all, industry bloggers spent all last week spewing purple prose to describe Ultron’s ridiculous ticket presales. So no matter how ridiculous it is to do $187 million–plus in three days, Mayweather-Pacquiao wasn’t the only must-see event that left us all feeling just a little bit underwhelmed this weekend.
As it turns out, Mayweather-Pacquiao — and those thousand other options on offer at Saturday’s sports smorgasbord — may have been the culprit. Disney’s Dave Hollis was quick to tell Variety that Saturday was “one of the greatest sports days perhaps in history.” Not only did weekend grosses drop across the board for all movies, but Age of Ultron’s Saturday admissions after 5 p.m. dipped significantly in comparison to the original Avengers, probably thanks to all those boxing viewing parties, the NBA and NHL playoffs, and let’s throw in Yankees–Red Sox just for kicks. It also makes intuitive sense that if a huge chunk of households are shelling out $100 to watch Mayweather disassemble Manny with Ultron-like efficiency, maybe they won’t be champing at the bit to blow another $100 at the local IMAX afterward.
And that’s the explanation Hollywood would love to believe, because it means those few of us who waited out opening weekend will turn up in due course sometime this week or next weekend to empty our wallets into Marvel’s money mulcher. However, the nagging thought at the back of the industry’s mind is that Age of Ultron didn’t quite live up to the hype; the critics certainly seem to think so, and even audiences set Ultron one notch lower on the all-important Cinema Score (granted, we’re talking A versus A-plus). If that’s true, Age of Ultron starts to look like a slightly punchy canary in the superhero coal mine; The Wall Street Journal dares to wonder whether that means audiences are tiring of world-building event films.3 Since the major studios have all bet their houses on mimicking the Marvel model with their own interdependent blockbusting worlds, assigning release dates to sequels that don’t even have titles yet, treating your audience like some overexploited soybean field would present a problem.
Box Office Guru’s Gitesh Pandya points out that if Ultron performs like Iron Man 3, it’ll top out at $441 million, which is a significant 29 percent drop from the original Avengers.
But isn’t that totally alarmist? That would never happen, right? We’ll all show up next weekend; and we’ll be there for the rejiggered Ant Man … and the Infinity War … and Batman v Superman … and the Justice League … and the rebooted Spider-Man reboot. Don’t worry, Hollywood. Just lull yourself to sleep counting all of our $20 bills as they jump from our clammy hands into your quarterly reports.
- Avengers: Age of Ultron, Disney, $187.7 million
- The Age of Adaline, Lionsgate Films, $6.3 million ($23.4 million domestic total)
- Furious 7, Universal, $6.1 million ($330.5 million domestic total)
- Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, Sony, $5.6 million ($51.2 million domestic total)
- Home, Fox/DreamWorks, $3.3 million ($158.1 million domestic total)