2017 is here and it will be the biggest MCU year to date. With three films, three Netflix shows, and two ABC shows (plus the possibility of Runaways on Hulu) so much content is coming. But is all this content too much? Might Marvel be biting off a bit more than the studio can chew? Or will more content just mean more money in the coffers? Here’s a look ahead to how Marvel will do at the box office in 2017 with its three features Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
The return of Marvel’s favorite cosmic hero team comes the first weekend in May, Marvel’s traditional big money weekend. That slot has produced all four of Marvel’s billion dollar films, one in four of the last five years. (They didn’t release a film in May 2014.) This one is a bit of a shot in the dark. The first film in the franchise outperformed expectations considerably and trailed only Avengers in box office take for the first film in a franchise. It is not unusual to see an MCU sequel take a 50-100% jump from one film to the next, particularly if the film has a lot of buzz around it. Guardians of the Galaxy had to overcome so much when it debuted. A comic deep cut with a talking tree and raccoon is not exactly a standard Hollywood formula. All of the hearts that film won over should be excited to see a return. Most signs are positive, with the movie the second most anticipated film of 2017 and the trailer the most watched in MCU history. The only questions will be if the film could possibly match the long legs of the original. Captain America: Civil War seems like a good comparison, given that it too was the follow up to a surprise hit and fan favorite. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine Vol. 2 can quite manage to catch lightning in a bottle twice. We will guess about a 50% jump, with a slightly heavier international take.
Global Box Office: $1,150,000,000
Domestic Box Office: $400,000,000
Opening North American Weekend: $175,000,000
This is the hardest film to project. On the one hand, it seems that a Marvel led Spidey movie is an automatic billion dollar movie. On the other hand, the Spider-Man franchise has been on a steady descent since the first film hit theaters almost 15 years ago. Often the response to such hand-wringing is, “Yeah, but those films are terrible.” Yes, they generally were, but should we assume that no residual “not this again” feelings exist in the larger movie going public? Will the promotional team manage to make clear to non-fans that this is a new and different Spidey, not just a sixth film in the franchise? While Spider-Man fans assume it’s a run-away winner in next year’s MCU box office horse race, it may be far closer to Guardians Vol. 2 than many expect. Factoring in the pluses and minuses, we are going to peg this movie somewhere close to Spider-Man 2 domestically, but with a slightly heavier international mix in the global box office, ala Amazing Spider-Man 2. This would put it a touch under Guardians Vol. 2, but still easily the best solo MCU debut of all time.
Global Box Office: $1,100,000,000
Domestic Box Office: $375,000,000
Opening North American Weekend: $160,000,000
Looking at this movie, it is clear that Marvel is admitting how hard of a time they have had in getting this character right, particularly with American audiences. The previous films in the franchise languish near the bottom of the MCU rankings in the box office, critical approval, and fan appreciation. In response to the track record of the thunder god, Marvel is pulling out all the stops. The film will feature not just Thor and his usual supporting cast, but also Hulk and Doctor Strange, plus the introduction of Tessa Thompson, Jeff Goldblum, and Cate Blanchett to the MCU. “Planet Hulk” is a fan favorite storyline that many have pleaded to see on film for years. Bringing in Taika Waititi also appears to be a way to shake up the status quo. A whole lot of ingredients are being blended into one mix. If it all works, the results will be stunning. If not, then the film will probably feel like an over-sized desert at the end of a year-long superhero feast. The November time slot is also not conducive to huge gains in the box office, particularly with Star Wars: Episode VIII around the corner to kill the long term run. Ragnarok should outperform its predecessors, but not by much, landing slightly above Doctor Strange numbers.
Global Box Office: $700,000,000
Domestic Box Office: $240,000,000
Opening North American Weekend: $85,000,000
Now it’s important to remember that making box office predictions this far out is really difficult. Doctor Strange significantly outpaced predictions made a few weeks before release, much less eleven months before. And reviews will strongly affect the take. Occasionally a perfect storm comes along and tanks a movie as well, like Fantastic Four a few years back. These predictions largely assume that these movies will get a favorable response from critics and fans, as has been the MCU’s track record over 14 movies.
The big number for Marvel is probably $2.5 billion in total sales in 2017. They’ve never gotten to $2 billion in a year, but the three movies they have this year should easily clear that number and approach the larger target. Anything less will mean a major disappointment for one of the movies. Only time will tell how three movies in a calendar year will affect the overall market and if three-a-year proves to be a sustainable practice, particularly as Warner Brothers and Fox continue to up their offerings as well. The threat of “superhero fatigue” has been an exercise in Chicken Little thinking thus far, but the limits are tested more and more each year. This time next year we will know better if the world is ready for more or less super-powered films.
(Note: This article is concerned with MCU Box Office, but for the first time in years these numbers are not merely going to Disney. Sony will take in the income from Spider-Man: Homecoming. This situation mirrors the early years of the MCU where various franchises were released under different distributors.)