Avengers: Endgame, a Three-Hour Finale for an $18 Billion Franchise
(Bloomberg) -- The wait to find out what happens on the other side of The Snap is over. By the time you read this, the rollout of Walt Disney Co.’s Avengers: Endgame will have already begun unspooling to fans across the world, the epic finale featuring gargantuan battles as well as a resurrection, of sorts, at the end of Marvel’s superheroes-and-foes saga.
The film, which opens this week on a record 4,600 screens nationwide, is the culmination of a 21-movie buildup of standalone installments, sequels, spinoffs, and superhero mashups that began with the release of Iron Man in 2008. In that time the franchise has generated $18.6 billion worldwide in ticket sales, a springboard for handsomely profitable television shows and merchandise.
Most of that has accrued to Disney, which bought Marvel in 2009 and under its auspice built up a wave of hits the likes of which Hollywood has never seen. Three of the top-10 worldwide grosses of all time belong to Avengers movies, and a fourth, Black Panther, is already one of the most successful standalone franchises ever. Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige, the brain behind the movies, has become the industry’s biggest producer, overtaking Steven Spielberg in box-office ticket sales.
A Long Look Back
At first, Endgame takes us back to the beginning. All the way back to the original superhero sextet from 2012’s Marvel’s The Avengers—Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). As the first Marvel release under Disney’s own distribution banner, that film was the sixth-biggest-grossing movie worldwide, at $1.5 billion. Those six, having set the template for generating billions at the theaters, now must find a way to bring life back to half of the universe.
Since the first film, the core group has introduced groups such as S.H.I.E.L.D and HYDRA, the Guardians of the Galaxy, the forces of Wakanda, and, in this installment, Captain Marvel, the company’s future-facing female hero. If you are a comic book fan, you know all these things already.
But if, like me, you didn’t grow up reading the comics, there is a lot to remember, even if you’ve seen all the movies. The important thing to remember is that these are the good guys (and girls) who have to stop the evil ones, Loki and the mighty Thanos, a genocidal warlord from another world who wants to conquer the universe. The last time we saw Thanos, in Infinity War, he’d completed his hunt to unite the six Infinity Stones, which he used, with a snap of his fingers, to wipe out half the living beings in the universe.
Arriving at The End
To get here, Disney’s Marvel has made a couple of bets that have paid off handsomely. One was teaming up with Sony Pictures on Spider-Man: Homecoming to help revive everyone’s favorite web-slinging franchise, so that the Sony-owned Spidey could join the Marvel Universe storylines. And another, of course, was that a black superhero with a largely black cast would have such broad appeal. When Black Panther made his kingly entrance in 2018, he did it to the tune of $700 million from the U.S. and Canada, the third-biggest domestic movie in history.
When we find the Avengers this time, they’re recovering from the devastation of the Thanos Snap. Some are in therapy groups; others, like Thor, have really let themselves go. But there’s still hope embodied at the heart of the movie through Tony Stark. He can’t help but try to find a solution to save the day.
You could argue that this is all Stark’s doing. The first phase of Marvel’s master plan started with Iron Man, arguably the most popular of the Avengers. His character, a wealthy industrialist who builds a special armored suit and technology to fight evil, has been a constant in this long series of films and their complex storylines. In the meantime, it’s given Robert Downey Jr. a lucrative career. According to estimates, his earnings are among the highest in Hollywood.
But Iron Man isn’t the future of the Marvel universe. Captain Marvel has recently been introduced to us in her own standalone film, which has beat that $1 billion threshold globally as well. And Feige has said in interviews that she will lead the Avengers into the next phase, which he’s mapped out five years ahead.
Technically, the story’s arc will conclude with the release of Spider-Man: Far From Home on July 2. But Endgame is the battle to end all battles. Infinity War set records for opening weekends domestic ($257 million) and worldwide ($640.5 million), but Endgame could exceed $270 million in its first weekend, according to Box Office Pro. Based on the screening I attended, I’d wager fans are unlikely to be disappointed: There were grown men and women weeping in the seats alongside me.
Here’s a spoiler I don’t mind spilling: The one thing Marvel fans won’t need to wait for after the three-hour run time is a post-credits scene—there aren’t any. It’s perhaps the only thing that superfans could complain about. But for me, it put a firm close on this chapter of the story.
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.