One of the major misunderstandings among fandom is the actual meaning of box office numbers. For the average human being, any number featuring eight or more digits is a huge amount of money. The difference between $400 million and $600 million is hard to wrap one’s mind around. Complicating the issue is that box office reports generally report overall revenue. In other words, when someone says Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is on track to make $160 million in its opening weekend, that means that cinema goers will pull that amount out of their pockets and hand it to the theater. This number does not directly say anything about profit, however. A portion of that money goes to the theater (and those arrangements are complex) and costs must be recouped, including the production of the film and advertising costs. Sometimes, blockbusters will spend hundreds of millions of dollars plastering their film on every website, magazine, bus stop, subway station, and park bench in every major city in the world. So as bizarre as it sounds, a film can make $500 million dollars and not actually profit the studio a dime.
Thankfully, Deadline every year runs down film profits, to show some of the detail in earnings and costs and give a fuller understanding of the business of movies. Recently they detailed Doctor Strange and the rough breakdown of the major numbers looks like this:
Global Box Office: $677.55 million
Cinema Cut: $277 million
Overall Studio Profit: $122.65 million
Obviously those numbers don’t include the costs and the home release data (see Deadline for a lot more detail). That big box office return doesn’t feel quite as big when you see the profit. To put it another way, for every dollar Disney/Marvel spent on Doctor Strange they made back about .30 cents in profit. Another way to look at it is that had the movie grossed $550 million it would have been a roughly break even enterprise.
Another interesting perspective this data gives us comes from comparing films’ profitability. Comicbookmovie compiled a list of superhero movies based on the data from Deadline. Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, and Batman V. Superman make for an interesting trio. Ant-Man earned $519 million at the box office and turned that into a $104 million profit. Strange’s numbers are above. The clash of Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent had a box office of $873 million but only profited $105 million. Let that sink in for a minute. Disney walked out of Ant-Man with essentially the same profit as Warner Brothers got for Batman v. Superman. They did so with far less financial risk as well. While fans often brag over box office results, a movie that “makes” a lot more money (revenue) might not actually “make” a lot more money (profit). It is easy to look at box office returns and to see parity between the MCU and DCEU, but the reality is that Marvel is crushing the competition in profits.
For those who love the MCU this is all very good news. Marvel makes a lot of money both in revenue and profit. Even the “smaller” films of the MCU are hightly profitable. Kevin Feige and company deserve a ton of credit for discipline on budgets. While many blockbusters are guilty of massive reshoots costing millions upon millions, Marvel’s reshoots are typically minimal. Also, while many blockbusters release “director’s cuts” with nearly an hour of unused footage, directors like the Russo Brothers and James Gunn are notorious for shooting basically what they need. While ultimately fans may not care about the profits of a multi-national goliath like Disney, the profitablity of these movies mean that MCU films will continue to be produced. If Stephen Strange and Scott Lang can outearn films with much higher IP nototriety, it means Marvel will continue to take us to new and unusual places.
(As Deadline continues to count down their top 10 profit earners for 2016, Captain America: Civil War will likely also be revealed and we’ll cover it here at MCUExchange.)