Without embracing too much hyperbole, it’s safe to say that one of the most anticipated films of all time is set to debut this weekend as Avengers: Endgame prepares to take the global box office by storm.
The film represents a finale to the unprecedented 22-chapter Infinity Saga began by 2008’s Iron Man, and while the Marvel Cinematic Universe will continue for years to come, Endgame represents the end of the line for its first major over-arching story — and, perhaps, a few leading characters. Be sure to check out our interview with co-director Joe Russo for his thoughts on what the film and the franchise mean to fans and moviegoers around the world.
Recent tracking has suggested that the film is on course for an historic domestic launch, but pinpointing its exact trajectory has become one of the most daunting box office subjects on record. Since this film clearly has a perfect storm brewing in its favor, we’re foregoing the usual “pros and cons” breakdown and focusing on a handful of elements that will be key to the epic’s efforts toward shattering a bevy of records.
When pre-sales began earlier this month, Fandango reported Endgame sold five times as many tickets as Avengers: Infinity War did one year ago before setting the standing opening weekend record of $257.7 million. Endgame also bested the record for the company’s top first week and first day of pre-sales, eclipsingStar Wars: The Force Awakens.
The caveat here is that Force began sales more than two months before release — meaning Endgame had a greater urgency within a shorter purchasing window, plus over three years’ worth of evolving pre-sales behavior among consumers.
Still, advance sales are key because Star Wars as a franchise had always been king of the hill in this category. Infinity War didn’t match Force‘s, or even Last Jedi‘s, Fandango records — despite eventually taking away the latter’s $247.8 million first weekend record. The importance of that is further compounded by the fact that Force opened a week before Christmas, which arguably may have deflated its full potential on opening weekend had it opened weeks away from a major holiday — the start of summer, for example.
Now, though, Endgame is has become the company’s all-time best pre-seller and has sold out over 8,000 showtimes nationwide as of Wednesday morning — from metro areas to small cities. That’s a remarkable feat that suggests momentum could carry the film well past what usual tracking metrics suggest will already be a record weekend.
Is Endgame an outlier behaving more like a fan-heavy Star Wars film in the pre-sales window, or will it prove to still perform like a slightly-less-front-loaded Marvel film throughout the weekend? It’s a question we won’t have answered until the numbers roll in, unfortunately. While Star Wars itself has a vast audience that made it less front-loaded than most franchises, Marvel films have shown to be (relatively) more back-loaded during opening weekend advance sales up until this point.
Unofficially, though, we’re observing rough pre-sales data trends throughout the weekend that point to this still behaving like Infinity War (which only declined 23 percent on its first Saturday) rather than Force Awakens (which eased 43 percent).
Showtimes & Capacity
The perceived disadvantage of Endgame‘s 181-minute run time has been that it would limit the number of showtimes available throughout the weekend (roughly translating to one less per day than Infinity War), thus meaning those shows would need to sell a lot more tickets to top Infinity‘s weekend record by more than a small margin.
Exhibitors have answered the call, though. Sky-high demand for tickets has prompted chains like AMC to run the film around the clock through opening weekend, keeping showtimes available for 72 hours straight. There are multiple reports of early morning sellouts for Thursday-into-Friday, not to mention consistent sellouts through Saturday and Sunday’s prime showtimes.
In fact, Webedia’s Showtimes Dashboard reveals that Endgame is actually booked for nearly 229,000 showtimes across 3,492 theaters in its sample size. That’s 13 percent more than Infinity War‘s final count of 202,025 showtimes across a 3,560 theater sample.
Worth noting is that observed bookings indicate a higher share of 2D shows for Endgame and a lower share of 3D shows versus Infinity War. While overall volume of sales — especially at IMAX, Dolby, and other PLF formats — could counter-balance the comparison, that still means fewer 3D surcharges on traditional screens to boost box office revenue.
While sellouts are frequent, there are still plenty of available options for prospective ticket-buyers once looking beyond Thursday and Friday. While some analysts question the challenge of capacity, open showtimes remain with generally decent seating available in many areas once looking past Friday evening shows (although those seats are quickly filling up as well).
The remaining X factors: will less ardent fans settle for a 10am or 9pm show in a small theater later in the weekend or wait until next week for a better seat in a premium theater? This is the ultimate determining factor in capacity potential, and one that won’t be answered until walk-up business begins this weekend (which, again, has been strong for Marvel films in years past).
Traditional tracking metrics are, simply put, through the roof. Our Trailer Impact surveys have generated the best results of any film since tracking began last year, with Endgame standing at an astounding 94 percent “Positive Interest” score entering today. That includes 77 percent of moviegoers responding as “Definitely Interested,” 17 percent as “Interested,” 5 percent as “Not Very Interested,” and a mere 1 percent as “Definitely Not Interested.”
On traditional tracking, the film has exceeded the metrics of Infinity War through the same point before release, by significant margins in some cases.
Last year, Infinity War averaged $57,599 per theater (it opened at 4,474 locations). That’s the second highest average of all time behind Force Awakens ($59,982 at 4,134 locations) and third best among films opening in at least 1,000 theaters when adjusted for current ticket prices (we’re using NATO’s $9.11 average at the end of 2018).
The inflation figure trails Force, but the top seed belongs to another Star Wars film — 1983’s Return of the Jedi. That film earned $66,439 per location ($22,973 in 1983 sales) when it opened in 1,002 theaters. The sample size is significantly smaller, of course, but moviegoing habits are also dramatically different than they were 36 years ago — opening weekend demand in the early 1980s would practically be a footnote compared to what it is now, for example.
Return of the Jedi is an intriguing comparison point given that it, too, was the culmination of a widely beloved saga and promised the conclusion to an iconic cliffhanger of a beloved predecessor, The Empire Strikes Back. Sound familiar?
The Infnity Saga finale is slated to open in an industry record 4,662 locations, per Disney’s most recent update. Hypothetically, if Endgame were to match Jedi‘s inflation-adjusted PTA, that would translate to more than $309 million over the weekend. That’s before considering Return of the Jedi didn’t have premium screen surcharges from Dolby and IMAX, while it also didn’t have an entire Thursday evening’s worth of nationwide shows included in the weekend.
Other Franchise Finales
If one looks at how other beloved franchise’s finales performed relative to their predecessors, here’s a breakdown:
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 increased 35.4 percent from Part 1‘s opening weekend (from Infinity War, that would be $348.8 million)
- Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith increased 35.5 percent from Attack of the Clones (translating $349.2 million)
- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King increased 17.1 percent from The Two Towers (translating to $301.8 million)
(Though otherwise a strong comparison point, we’re excluding The Dark Knight Rises from this comparison due to the difficult-to-quantify impact of the Aurora, Colorado tragedy during that film’s opening weekend.)
Market Capacity & Aggregate Weekends
Looking past individual film capacity and more toward the overall amount of money moviegoers are spending lends some insight into the potential of this weekend as well. Year-to-date box office ($2.935 billion) is down 16.5 percent from where it stood through April 23, 2018 ($3.516 billion) despite the blockbuster success of films like Captain Marvel and Us.
Furthermore, during the comparable weekend before Infinity War opened last year, audiences spent $125.5 million across all tracked movies at the box office. This past weekend generated 13.5 percent less with $108.5 million.
These kinds of dips in box office trends are often preludes to not just massive weekends with the right film, but results that often soar past even the most optimistic expectations. Films like Black Panther, Infinity War, The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, and The Avengers each beat highly optimistic tracking by substantial measures in recent years.
The two highest earning weekends on record are those of December 18 – 20, 2015 ($313.3 million) and April 27 – 29, 2018 ($313.9 million) — when The Force Awakens and Infinity War, respectively, opened. Adjusted for inflation, however, the benchmark belongs to July 18 – 20, 2008. Its $260.5 million aggregate earnings adjust to $330.6 million with current ticket prices. That’s when The Dark Knight opened to a then-record $158.4 million ($201 million adjusted) weekend.
The scenarios can play out a number of ways, but based on our expectations for holdover business this weekend (most films will see dramatic drops), reaching the adjusted aggregate weekend record seems to be in play if Endgame fully capitalizes on its potential. In other words, casual audiences will need to respond nearly as positive as critics have, granting the film a stellar 96 percent Rotten Tomatoes score — one of the highest ever for a Marvel movie.
Last but not least, overseas performance itself may be a strong indicator of where things are heading. Endgame set a new opening day record in China with $107.5 million earlier this week, 61 percent higher than Infinity War‘s first day there last year (although it opened two weeks after the U.S. launch, so comparisons are slightly skewed).
Today, the studio reported an overall $169.0 million international opening day across 25 markets — setting new industry records in the vast majority of territories.
With a film this unprecedented and tracking that has reached unknown territory, it’s important to emphasize that regardless of whether or not Endgame lands on the low, middle, or high end of forecasts, this is going to be an historic weekend no matter what.
Barring unforeseen circumstances beyond the box office market itself, Endgame is highly likely to topple Infinity War‘s opening weekend record. If/when that happens, the Avengers franchise will tie Jurassic Park with its third record debut, trailing only Star Wars and Batman (four times each).
Pound for pound, our models indicate a domestic opening weekend ranging as “low” as $275 million and as high as $325 million. The latter is incredibly optimistic, though mathematically, it is achievable at the rate showtimes continue to be added and tickets continue to sell ahead of the daily pace of Infinity War.
It’s also worth mentioning that another pop culture phenomenon will debut a hugely anticipated episode of television on Sunday night when Game of Thrones is likely to keep at least a few people home — although by that late night hour of the weekend, any impact on box office results should be minimal.
Globally, we and other industry analysts continue to expect the film could top $900 million by the end of the weekend — thanks in large part to China opening the film day-and-date with the rest of the world this time around. That would be enough to topple Infinity War‘s global opening weekend record ($640.5 million) and The Fate of the Furious‘s international opening record ($443.2 million).
Top 10 vs. Last Year
Boxoffice projects this weekend’s top ten films will increase between 9 and 19 percent from the same weekend last year when Avengers: Infinity War debuted to an all-time record $257.7 million weekend as part of an overall $303.0 million top ten frame.
|Film||Distributor||3-Day Weekend Forecast||Projected Domestic Total through Sunday, April 28||% Change from Last Wknd|
|Avengers: Endgame||Disney / Marvel||
($280,000,000 – $320,000,000 ranged forecast)
($280,000,000 – $320,000,000 ranged forecast)
|The Curse of La Llorona||Warner Bros. / New Line||$8,300,000||$42,700,000||-69%|
|Captain Marvel||Disney / Marvel||$8,000,000||$412,800,000||-12%|
|Missing Link||United Artists Releasing||$2,000,000||$16,600,000||-52%|
|Pet Sematary (2019)||Paramount||$1,700,000||$53,100,000||-65%|
|Penguins||Disney / Disneynature||$1,900,000||$6,600,000||-15%|
Alex Edghill and Jesse Rifkin contributed to this report
Forecasts subject to change as location counts are finalized before Friday.