So last year I went out on a limb and tried to predict 2017 MCU film box office returns, months before the films went into theaters. That always was going to be a speculative venture, but it only seemed right to come back and cop to the things that I got wrong, and brag about the (few) things that I got right. Looking back a year later, there were some successes and failures.
First of all, I actually got the North American box office order right, predicting Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 would sneak past Spider-Man: Homecoming and Thor: Ragnarok would bring up the rear. In the end, the race was far closer than I predicted, but that was the order. I didn’t predict that Spidey love overseas, however, would bring its global total above Quill and Co. I did get close to guessing Spidey’s overseas heavy load. I said 66% would be overseas and the reality was 61%. (I was even closer to getting Ragnarok’s overseas/domestic balance.) Clearly, I do better with domestic numbers, predicting both Vol. 2 and Homecoming pretty close (3% and 12% off respectively).
That said, I was far too bullish on Marvel overall. No film made it to a billion dollars this year and opening weekends for two of the three were far softer than I expected. Also, I didn’t see Ragnarok doing as well as it did. (Some of that is due to my faulty assumption Justice League would actually put up a fight instead of dying a quick easy death.) Overall I had Disney’s haul 14% higher than it actually was.
What did we learn about the current state of MCU box office? The news is good and bad in that Marvel has settled into a pretty steady pattern in 2017. Their movies all ended their first US weekend with $117-146 million, finished in the mid $800 million range internationally, experience a 2.5-2.8 multiplier, and are roughly 60% foreign vs. domestic. The returning runaway success (Guardians), the rebirth of a major icon (Spider-Man), and the revitalization of a box office also ran (Thor) all had essentially the same results. This is a very strong floor for a franchise. No one else is putting out three $800 million movies a year. But Marvel also might be a little frustrated that they couldn’t get one of these movies over the billion mark.
When all is said and done, I’m shocked I was able to stay within 20% on most figures, so I’ll take that as a victory and move on to predicting 2018!
This time I can cheat a little because the early tracking numbers are already in for Black Panther, which is only about 7 weeks out from release. The first numbers are saying about $90 million opening and assuming a 3X multiplier. I think that the buzz is going to build for this one. There is a niche of action fans that might also be hungry for a spy-thriller feeling film, given how far we are from the last Bond and Mission Impossible and Bourne films. One caveat I’d add is that I wish that Disney hadn’t put Ava Duvernay’s Wrinkle in Time as close on the calendar, three weeks later. I could see that film keeping Ryan Coogler‘s movie at more of a 2.8 multiplier, instead of a 3. Many are thinking, and I agree, that this film could be resonant for fans who have asked for better representation in superhero films the same way Wonder Woman and her 4X multiplier debut were. The only other major question I have is how well the film will do overseas. Chadwick Boseman has a bit of a curious career in that his films have almost no footprint outside the US. Draft Day, 42, and The Express were sports films with almost zero international appeal. Marshall and Get On Up also did literally 95% or more of their business stateside. So he doesn’t have the sort of international audience that someone like Benedict Cumberbatch did when he launched his film franchise.
Opening North American Weekend: $110 million
Domestic Total Box Office: $320 million
Global Total Box Office: $700 million
Avengers: Infinity War
And now comes the hardest of all to predict. I’m torn on this movie from a box office perspective in so many ways. I could see it being a home run that blows the doors off of records left and right. But I could also see the hype outstripping the reality by a long shot. The reality is that Captain America: Civil War, at least in my mind, should have been a runaway box-office train. It did fine but not as well as Iron Man 3. Also, I’m trying to figure out if Justice League is a sign of superhero fatigue setting in or just an example of a bad movie doing poorly. What if fan reaction turns, somewhat like Last Jedi? Then again the trailer buzz is reminiscent to It, which blew up when it released. So much to consider. Ultimately I think that it does titanic opening business and then dissipates somewhat quickly. I will still have it as the highest MCU grosser ever, but not by much. Just not sure if that Avengers magic can happen again. Also, how does the looming Avengers 4 effect interest? So much will depend on how the promotional stuff and reviews role out, and how much spoiler material leaks.
Opening North America Weekend: $225 million
Domestic Total Box Office: $560 million
Global Total Box Office: $1.6 billion
Ant-Man and the Wasp
When it comes to Ant-Man and the Wasp, it seems hard to believe that Infinity War won’t put a damper on the interest for this movie. Some pundits will point to the explosive box office for Iron Man 3, returning after Avengers. That’s a different case entirely in my mind. That was the return of the central character of the universe after a year-long wait for more, after a massively successful film. Ant-Man and the Wasp is far more likely to feel unimportant to the central storyline. This is particularly a problem depending on how the writers work out the chronology and storyline. If Infinity War ends in a cliffhanger and this movie is, “Meanwhile, over in San Francisco…” it just might get overlooked. Also, Deadpool 2 will come out a few weeks before, in a similar comic comedy vein. I’m just not hopeful it will grow much past the first in the series.
Opening North America Weekend: $80 million
Domestic Total Box Office: $200 million
Global Total Box Office: $600 million
Well, I’m sure this will all look silly a year from now. We now live in a world where films can rise and fall based on Rotten Tomato reviews and social media buzz. It is hard to determine how a movie will do this far ahead, particularly because several of these aren’t even finished yet! Thanks for reading and see you next year.