The A Team

So have you heard about this little movie called The Avengers?

I not only saw it — opening day, which is always fun but for the past dozen or so years not something that I’ve been able to count on doing — I’ve written about it as well; that commentary just hasn’t made its way here yet. My actual review of the Joss Whedon jam will hopefully be along shortly after these musings on its revenue and other impressive statistics.

photo-illustration of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark holding Cosmic Cube with dollar sign amidst viewscreens depicting Avengers promotional images

The steady crowing from Disney about The Avengers’ dominance has been intriguing both for the facts themselves and for what metrics it chooses to tout. News outlets’ reportage and analysis of the numbers are also interesting. And lest the mention of Disney confuse, I’ll remind you that Marvel Entertainment was acquired by The Walt Disney Company back in 2009, as I noted in a brief post then.

Disney signature logo inside of Marvel logo

Its latest press release at this writing came Sunday, with The Avengers poised to reach $1 billion in global box-office gross — a feat it has since accomplished. That is, rather like the movie itself, a culmination of what’s gone before as Hulk (and friends) smashed a litany of records and a way station on the road to more, more, more, all while maintaining a fitting A+ grade from audiences surveyed by CinemaScore.

Avengers became the quickest film to $150M and then to $200M in US receipts by virtue of having the first $200M opening weekend. It made nearly $81M on Friday, May 4th, its opening day, followed by a record-breaking Saturday and Sunday. It then grabbed the title of fastest to $250M in domestic gross, followed by $300M and $350M thanks to becoming the first movie to take in $100M in its second weekend. Paramount, which distributed the pre-Avengers films fully produced by Marvel Studios, was paid handsomely by Disney to relinquish marketing/distribution responsibilities and the attendant profit cuts; it’s a deal with which both companies must be happy, just as Disney would surely love for Marvel to reacquire the options on its properties produced by other studios — get Spider-Man back from Sony, etc., for better cross-platform merchandising as well as creative broadening of what’s become known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Disney launched The Avengers in many foreign markets before its US premiere,
irking some fans. It claimed “the biggest opening weekend of all time in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Central America, Peru, Bolivia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, and United Arab Emirates,” according to Disney, and “has now opened in all major markets except Japan”.

Fun fact! The movie is titled Avengers Assemble in the UK to stave off confusion with the popular 1960s British TV series The Avengers, a spy show whose own big-budget movie (re)incarnation in 1998 was a colossal flop. The show started in 1961 on ITV, before the 1963 introduction of Marvel Comics’ Avengers, but it didn’t make the transition to America until 1965, when later seasons pairing Patrick Macnee’s John Steed with Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel began airing on ABC. On the few occasions that the British Avengers has appeared in comic-book form in the United States, it’s likewise been retitled (as with the Steed and Mrs. Peel miniseries published in the early 1990s by Eclipse Comics, currently being reprinted by Boom Studios).

photo-illustration of Hulk in motion tearing open a plane and cash flying out

The Avengers’ grosses and content have been the subject of steady reporting on Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch [bad link] and Inside Movies blogs. If you pore through the film’s categories there, you’ll find statistics that will be fascinating to some and no doubt picayune to others. Blockbusters are clearly front-loaded, even the ones with legs, their first weekend almost certainly remaining their biggest, so when measuring week-to-week drops one has to separate them from smaller films that build audiences, frequently by adding theaters around the country, throughout their initial release. It’s striking that, per EW, “The Avengers’ 50% drop is the smallest second-weekend decline of any film that achieved one of the Top 10 opening weekends of all time” — which again, in hard-number terms, means a fall from $207M to a still staggering $103M. The Dark Knight (whose imminent sequel was until recently judged a possible buzzkill in terms of Disney/Marvel’s bragging rights, but now isn’t generally thought by industry folk to quite have the muscle to topple The Avengers’ records) fell 53% from its first to second weekends after a $158M debut, by comparison; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, just last year, fell by a much larger 72% from the $168M opening-weekend record that The Avengers crushed.

Also notable is that over 50% of The Avengers’ opening-weekend tally came from 3D — not a record percentagewise, thanks to Avatar, but still impressive and still a best in dollars, with its $108M topping Alice in Wonderland’s take; 8% of the overall gross was from IMAX theaters. I can’t help but wonder how much of the 3D earnings came from audiences shut out of regular screenings, given that much of the bloom seems to be off the 3D rose, although it’s entirely possible that despite merely being converted to 3D rather than filmed using the process the movie was a special exception for many fans who simply pick their higher-ticket indulgences more carefully.

I haven’t seen this reported, by the way, but with $207M and $103M hauls for its first two weekends, Avengers’ total domestic gross of $381M also means that it made about $71M in the four days between Sunday, May 6th, and Friday, May 11th — pretty incredible, and probably record-setting again, for a stretch of weekdays.

The split between viewers above 25 or 25 and younger was an even 50/50. Its gender makeup opening weekend was 60% male and 40% female.

Perhaps my favorite stat from the perspective of sheer dominance was that on The Avengers’ first weekend of release the runner-up in US box office was Think Like a Man with $8.1M, less than 4% of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ $207M. Due to a little mix-up I first went to a theater near the one where I was supposed to (and ultimately did) see Avengers on the night of May 4th, and, sadly not screening the movie, that place was a graveyard; there was not a single person in line at this multiplex at 9 p.m. on a Friday.

photo-illustration of Chris Helmsworth as Thor and Chris Evans as Captain America looking up as cash rains down on them

In addition to that A+ CinemaScore polling — which I think is just a tad generous,
but then it’s not really my place to tell people how much they enjoyed something — The Avengers has received substantial critical acclaim, with a 93% “fresh” (that is, positive) rating and 8.1 out of 10 critics’ average on Rotten Tomatoes, as well as a weighted average of 69 out of 100 based on 42 critics at Metacritic (“generally favorable reviews” or about a B- per the site). My own grade would be right on the B+/A- border, higher if you want to give lots of weight to how unthinkably amazing it is as a lifelong comic-book reader to see The Avengers translated into a genuine, live-action movie.

Among the more curious rankings I’ve seen involving The Avengers’ power is the placement of Marvel Comics atop Box-Office Mojo’s so-called Franchise Index [see update below] when listed by total gross. This is a weird apples-to-oranges comparison given that a franchise is apparently defined as anything from a studio like Pixar to adaptations with linked source material such as Roald Dahl novels to repeat collaborations like Tim Burton’s with Johnny Depp.

It’s neat in a vague sense that many of these classifications (movies based on Philip
K. Dick’s writing, those in which SNL alums made their feature-film debuts) have been aggregated, and that a conceptual pie can be sliced more than one way (Watchmen in both the DC Comics category and the Alan Moore category) — even though when such different levels of care and creative input and nominal-creator involvement are considered, there’s really no continuity to a list of, for instance, “Stephen King movies”. Ranking them against one another, however, is just bizarre. Maybe you can get at least some apples-to-other-kinds-of apples competition going, although the number of films in each would-be brand is so varied, the span of time over which the films in each category have been released can be so long, and the list of brands itself is so haphazard if not incomplete. Nickelodeon is on the list as a production house, and Hasbro is on it as the source of movies based on its properties; Marvel Comics is there in the latter capacity, with the first Spider-Man ranked as its top-grossing film to date, yet the triumph of The Avengers in large part was the still more profitable (and geek-baiting) web built for it by the shared-universe Marvel Studios releases distributed by Paramount and now Disney, of which the individual Spider-Man, X-Men, Blade, Ghost Rider, and Fantastic Four series have no part despite being licensed from a common publisher. [Update: The Franchise Index has been replaced by comparison pages for brands, franchises, and genres. It’s nice to know they read my stuff.]

While doing research for this post, I found it almost sad how obvious it is that Disney acquired Marvel Entertainment for Marvel Studios, the filmed-media division, and not Marvel Comics, the wellspring of it all — or at least how negligible the print division is compared to the revenue stream of the live-action and even animated programming.

Disney’s corporate website has its businesses divided into five categories: Media Networks, Parks and Resorts, The Walt Disney Studios, Disney Consumer Products, and Disney Interactive Media Group. Resorts has the most components, since each of its global theme-park areas is listed individually, along with Disney Cruise Line, but The Walt Disney Studios is really the biggest, encompassing its music and movie concerns, including Pixar Animation Studios, Touchstone Pictures, and Marvel Studios (listed as founded in 1996, headquartered in California, and being in the business of live-action film production). Media Networks includes not only ABC Entertainment Group but cable channels, Disney-owned TV stations, and Hyperion Books. Marvel Comics, the company that through various corporate sales and mergers can be traced back to the publishing imprint of that name and, before it, Timely Comics, begun in 1939, whose decades of stories delighting children of all ages fed the reigning box-office champ, which continues to produce digital and print comic books as well as collected editions thereof, is... nowhere in the corporate hierarchy at all.

photo-illustration of Tom Hiddleston as Loki standing amidst kneeling crowd with Golden Calf's head

I realize that by focusing on The Avengers’ financial intake, demographics, and other numbers, mentioning its writer/director exactly once and not at all the talents who crafted its source material, I’m engaging in my own marginalization of that source material — but only for the purpose of consciously examining the movie from a limited perspective. My intention was originally to, in the context of a piece on the film and its origins, revel in how successful the movie has been in entertaining the general public and, yes, raking in dough. As evidenced by the photo composites that illustrate this post, begun on a lark with that shot of Tony Stark and sinking perhaps too mock-seriously to Loki as the Golden Calf, it’s still hard not to get a bit cynical once you’re wallowing in the realm of Mammon.

The Avengers has made a ton of profit for people who really care nothing about its particulars, and there are far too many other people, writers and artists and even editors rather than executive suits, responsible for its success whose pockets are gilded with fleeting acknowledgement if that. Yet it’s also been a celebration for many people — those who made it and those who’ve seen it and those who’ve contributed to its foundations, making not just all of them but all of us who have followed the saga in printed or televised form for years and untold journeymen who’ve added to its creative stew part of its intricate mythology. We humans possess the remarkable and essential ability to compartmentalize, for good and ill; at the end of the day, I think that it’s perfectly all right to, well, marvel at the accomplishment of an honest-to-gosh frickin’ Avengers movie and thrill to the fact that it’s been enjoyed by people the world over, and still agitate over how Marvel has, since long before the Disney acquisition, been a corporate entity touting its library of characters while neglecting those who’d dreamt them up.

Disney and Marvel logos TM/® Disney Enterprises, Marvel Entertainment. Film stills:
Zade Rosenthal for Marvel Studios © 2012. Digital manipulation: Brian Saner Lamken.

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1 comment:

  1. I love the photo-illustrations, especially the one with Ol' Greenskin. HULK CASH!!!

    This is a really thorough piece that deserves more reasoned replies, so I'll be back later, but I really appreciated it.