When it comes to evaluating the financial performance of top movies, it isn’t about what a film grosses at the box office. The true tale is told when production budgets, P&A, talent participations and other costs collide with box office grosses and ancillary revenues from VOD to DVD and TV. To get close to that mysterious end of the equation, Deadline is repeating our Most Valuable Blockbuster tournament for 2019, using data culled by seasoned and trusted sources.
The tournament is not done yet. On Monday, we’ll look at last year’s biggest bombs and profit outliers, the latter those titles with small budgets that yielded big returns. Plus, we’ll officially crown this year’s champion.
It was a year ago today that Avengers: Endgame opened and became a cultural cinematic phenomenon unlikely to be seen again at the global and domestic box offices for some time. Avengers: Endgame decimated every box office record as we know it with a first-ever $1.2 billion worldwide start and $357.1 million domestic opening (at a then record 4,662 theaters). The type of cash studios typically pray their tentpoles make in a lifetime, the swan song of Iron Man and Captain America made in a weekend.
Close to 365 days later, it’s still jarring to think about the awesome amount of money made by exhibition, which overperformed on all cylinders for this movie — even more so with now with movie theaters globally completely shuttered out of safety from COVID-19. It’s a situation that has some closely aligned to the pic’s success unable to take a victory lap given the precarious situation the industry is weathering. Nonetheless, once we’re back up and running, Endgame remains a benchmark, an indication of the potential that lies out there for the movie theater business, especially when the right film hits the social zeitgeist at the right time.
Looking back, the industry definitely expected Endgame to be huge in the wake of the success of its first installment, Avengers: Infinity War. That cliffhanger — arguably the most jawdropping since Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back — charted respective record global and domestic openings of $640.5M and $257.7M (before Engdame crushed those) and became at the time the fifth highest-grossing movie of all-time with $1.369B. Some had some doubts that Endgame‘s box office could hit unprecedented levels given the Joe and Anthony Russo-directed/Christopher Markus-Stephen McFeelly scripted pic’s three-hour running time, which was roughly 30 minutes longer than Infinity War.
But then tickets went on sale April 1, promptly crashing AMC’s servers and setting first-day presales records for the chain as well as Regal and digital/online ticket retailers Fandango and Atom Tickets. In fact, all exhibitors were seeing record presales. Heading into opening weekend, industry insiders informed Deadline that Endgame had already banked between $120M-$140M in presales before the pic even hit the screen, beating the estimated $100M total for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. That made sense: 61% of the audience bought tickets online versus 37% at the multiplex per ComScore/Screen Engine, with Fandango later backing up that estimated figure reporting that they’d sold $127M worth of advance tickets for Endgame.
More indicators of Endgame‘s future success: its insane social media wattage. Both Endgame trailers were two of the most-watched of all time, clocking massive 24-hour views of 289M on December 7, 2018 and 268M on March 14, 2019. The pic’s social media universe, per RelishMix, was second to Infinity War with 2.45 billion followers across Instagram (223.6M), Twitter (1.8B), Facebook fans, video views (198.3M+87.6M) and YouTube views. This blew away the social media counts of other big campaigns, such as Fate of the Furious (1.8B), Beauty and the Beast (1.3B) and Despicable Me 3 (1.2B).
With all these tea leaves and intel, movie theaters around the world braced for the stampede, planning round-the-clock showtimes as well as MCU festivals at their theaters.
Then the numbers came rolling in.
China’s massive first day of $107M on April 23 last year was a record. Then $60M caame in domestic Thursday night previews, which feasibly beat Star Wars: Force Awakens’ record. Stateside, Endgame became the fastest pic to cross $100M in 17 hours, besting Force Awakens’ 21-hour record. A record opening domestic day of $157.1M, and an $886M opening-weekend overseas record. Then came the repeat business with $147.4M in weekend 2, the second-best sophomore weekend for a film in U.S./Canada behind Force Awakens. Driving business: Premium screens, Imax and 3D seats, which repped 41% of the pic’s business — tickets that easily went for $20 or more a pop.
While Disney demanded from U.S. and Canadian theater chains 65% of gross, most exhibitors told us they were better off with those steep terms than a film where they had to pay a distributor only 30%. Captain Marvel, even though she was in her eighth weekend when Endgame opened, saw spillover business as a Marvel sister being the No. 2 pic over April 26-28 with $8.3M.
A late June rerelease of Avengers: Endgame with bonus footage pushed the film to become the highest-grossing movie ever at the worldwide box office with $2.797 billion, finally defeating James Cameron’s Avatar ($2.79B), which held the record for close to a decade. Marvel boss Kevin Feige announced the all-time record to fans at the studio’s Hall H presentation at San Diego Comic Con last July.
When, oh, when can we expect an opening of this magnitude again? Especially in a post COVID-19 recession that is expected to see closures of theaters?
The good news once the world opens back up: Distributors believe a $300M+ domestic opening is indeed possible in the future, even if the nation’s theaters dropped from its current mid-5,000 levels to around 4,000. Essentially a 3,800-wide theater break is required to reach an Endgame-like box office result.
But it all comes down to what exactly the next cultural phenomenon will be. Is it Avatar 2 on December 17, 2021? Is it another MCU finale in 10 years? Is it Sony’s Spider-Man villain team-up The Sinister Six whenever that happens? Or the next iteration of Star Wars on December 16, 2022?
THE BOX SCORE
Here are the costs and revenues as our experts see them:
THE BOTTOM LINE
Endgame‘s first global weekend of $1.2 billion alone covered the pic’s combined $511M production and global marketing theatrical costs with surplus cash to spare — unheard of for any pricey tentpole. China itself delivered a final gross of $614.3M, becoming the top-grossing U.S. title in the Middle Kingdom. Twenty-five percent of that figure ,or $153.5M, came back to Disney. After amassing more than $2.797 billion, Disney saw an estimated $1.18 billion in theatrical rentals. Add in overall worldwide home entertainment and TV streams and revenues climb to $1.789B (not including merchandise). Those $511M theatrical costs were included in a greater global costs that amounted to $899M. Participations were massive at $175M, 25% higher than Infinity War‘s $140M. Robert Downey Jr. in his Iron Man finale here walks away with an estimated $55M in back-end profits, after around $20M upfront. Many cast members received box office bonuses, which is how Disney hammers its talent deals (versus profits shares after cash breakeven). Net profit here is a mindblowing $890M, which blows away the early forecasts on black ink we were hearing from film finance sources during the pic’s opening weekend of $600M-$650M. Endgame‘s net profit is also 78% higher than the half-billion that Infinity War returned to Disney, that pic ranking as last year’s winner of Deadline’s Profit Tournament.