Black Panther’s tremendous box office success has emboldened some wild predictions for the box office potential of Avengers: Infinity War. Here, though, I want to look at some of the reasons why fans should temper their expectations.
When examining the box office potential of Avengers: Infinity War, we want to at least look at any existing sets of data to determine what the trends are. One of the easiest ways to measure a film’s legs after it has finished its theatrical run is to look at the opening weekend multiplier. To do this, simply divide a film’s domestic box office total by its opening weekend. So, for example, Film A made $100 million on its opening weekend and finished with $200 million, resulting in a 2.0 multiplier. Film B, opening at $50 million and ending at $150 million, would have a 3.0 multiplier. So while Film B made less money, it still proved to have more legs than Film A.
When trying to guess the multiplier for Avengers: Infinity War, there are two overlapping sets of films I think deserve to be looked at: the eighteen already released films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the films that had the top 20 opening weekends of all-time.
The MCU Multiplier
The first subset of films that I want to look at is that of the prior MCU releases. For these charts, Black Panther‘s gross total was $667,828,952 as of Wednesday 04/11/2018, giving it a multiplier of 3.306. Its multiplier will continue to inch up as it earns more money, but I wouldn’t expect it to climb much higher.
The first thing to point out is that only five out of the eighteen films earned a multiplier higher than 3.0: The Avengers, Ant-Man, Iron Man, Black Panther, and Guardians of the Galaxy (which had a whopping 3.532 multiplier!). All five of these films are “firsts” in their franchise. Sure, The Avengers is a team-up, but it was the first Avengers film.
The second thing to notice is that is that the sequels have worse multipliers than their predecessors (the two exceptions being Captain America: The Winter Soldier beating out Captain America: The First Avenger 2.734 to 2.715 and Thor: Ragnarok beating Thor: The Dark World 2.567 to 2.407). This makes sense to a certain degree; with the first film, audiences are more likely to be driven to a property via word of mouth, whereas with a sequel more people are actively seeking a continuation of a thing they liked.
But it gets particularly interesting when you look at Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War. Both films opened under $200 million despite featuring massive team ups. And both failed to get a multiplier above 2.5. While that might be expected for Avengers: Age of Ultron (2.4 multiplier), which garnered a mixed critical and audience reception (an average critical score of 6.7 on Rotten Tomatoes, and a 66 on Metacritic), it is shocking that the much better received Captain America: Civil War (7.7 average score on Rotten Tomatoes and a 75 on Metacritic) had a worse multiplier of 2.278 – the worst multiplier in the MCU.
While it’s impossible to know exactly why Captain America: Civil War had such short legs, it isn’t hard to imagine that it was a combination of people rushing to see it to avoid spoilers, while the heavier tone kept people from returning time and time again. With Avengers: Infinity War built around a villain who wants to kill off half the universe, is it possible the high stakes might drive away repeat viewings? Will children and families want to return to see a film if one of their favorite heroes bite it as so many fans are expecting? Not having seen the film, it’s not possible to answer those questions, but it’s worth thinking about.
Opening Weekend Multipliers
Things get even shakier for Infinity War‘s legs when you look at the films with the top 20 opening weekends. While there are some fantastic exceptions (look at current record holder The Force Awakens‘ 3.777 multiplier!), the average multiplier for these films is a tad lower at 2.725 vs. the MCU alone (2.753). When you take out the MCU entries, the average of the remaining 14 films is 2.750, showing that some of Marvel’s biggest openers bring down the average multiplier.
I think it’s also important to note the relatively low placement of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 2. While fans know Avengers: Infinity War is only the first of a two-part “finale” for the current MCU, it’s being advertised as the end. Trailers have quotes like “the end is near” and Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark claiming “it’s all been building to this.” With finale films, everyone rushes to see it, inflating the opening weekend. But what happens to those members of the general audience who were unaware of Avengers 4? If Infinity War ends on a cliffhanger, will audiences love it or will they feel duped by the marketing?
Earlier this week, The Hollywood Reporter released a report that Avengers: Infinity War was set to break early ticket sale records for a superhero film. It was revealed in that article that the presales for Avengers: Infinity War were beating those of Black Panther “more than two-to-one during the same point in time.” This led to a bit of a fever pitch in box office discussion online. Black Panther made $202 million in its opening weekend. Surely presales of this proportion would mean a new opening weekend record? And while that’s certainly possible, I think it’s important to look at some additional information.
While Black Panther is the highest pre-selling superhero film in Fandango’s history, it ranks fourth all time, behind The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and Rogue One. The last film should help illustrate my point when comparing presales to the actual opening weekend, as Rogue One opened with $155.1 million back in 2016, a number that wouldn’t have broken the opening weekend record back when it was held by The Dark Knight in 2008 (with $158.4m).
Interestingly, when THR released their report, Fandango did not compare Avengers: Infinity War to the presales of any of the Star Wars films, suggesting (though not conclusively) that the gap in presales between Rogue One and Black Panther is quite substantial, even though Black Panther opened higher than Rogue One.
What does this mean for Avengers: Infinity War?
For one, it’s probably not a good idea to use its presales numbers as an indicator of its overall box office potential. More than any MCU film thus far, the plot details of Avengers: Infinity War have been hidden away, and fans are ravenous to find out what happens. Who dies? Where is the Soul Stone? No fan of the MCU wants these spoiled, and so presales are likely inflated for Avengers: Infinity War as people who might normally wait until closer to release to purchase their tickets are purchasing earlier to guarantee a show as soon as possible.
It should, however, lead to a higher opening weekend for the film. While I’ve seen some wild predictions online as high as $300 million (which would absolutely shatter The Force Awakens’ record of $247.9 million in 2015), I’d lean much more on the conservative side, at about $215 million for the opening. That’d be a record for Marvel, and the third highest opening weekend behind The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.
So Where Does it End Up?
Based off of the data we have, I think we’re looking at an opening weekend between $200 and $230 million along with a multiplier between 2.4 and 2.75. On the low end we end up with a film that finishes at $480m domestic (a little behind Age of Ultron‘s adjusted total of $491m) while on the high end, we see a film end up with $632.5 million. For a more solid prediction, I’ll take a $215.27m opening weekend with a 2.69 multiplier for a total of $579.08m domestically. And if I’m hilariously wrong, well, what fanboy can disappointed if one of the films he likes does better than expected?
Even if Avengers: Infinity War does smash the opening weekend to the tune of, say, $265m, it will need a multiplier of at least 2.6 to beat out the domestic total of Black Panther. It’s not an impossible task, but one that I hope to have illustrated just how tall an order it is.