The Infinity War Effect

The Worst-Case Scenario

Look, unless the film causes all its viewers to die after seven days, it’s not going to outright flop. And even if it kills its entire theatrical audience seven days later, it’ll still be better than Rings, which snagged $27.7m domestic from a $13m debut weekend. If Avengers: Infinity War opens less than Iron Man 3 (think $174m) and has the same multiplier as Rings, it’ll still end up with $390m in North America alone. In related comparisons, a run like In the Mouth of Madness ($8.9m/$3.4m in 1995) gets Infinity War to around $440m on a $170m debut.

That was fun, but let’s be serious for a moment.

Considering three years of inflation and obsessed fan-driven hype, it’s hard not to see how this movie opens that much lower than Avengers: Age of Ultron’s $191 million ($203m adjusted for inflation) Friday-Sunday opening frame back in 2015. That opening, slightly below the $207m launch of The Avengers three years prior, led to calls of “superhero fatigue” and proclamations of doom for the MCU. As T’Challa and Peter Parker can attest, Age of Ultron resulted in the complete implosion of the MCU. So if it opens closer to Age of Ultron than The Force Awakens, let’s keep our perspectives in check.

Yes, the theatrical landscape has changed in the last three years, with fewer audiences going to the movies outside of the biggest of big event movies and opting for VOD, streaming and the like for their filmed entertainment. But, if I may, I think we can argue that Infinity War is a “biggest of big” event movie offering. So let’s presume that at worst we’re looking at a $190-$195 million debut weekend, or about equal to the inflation-adjusted opening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II ($169m in 2011). And then let’s presume that all the alleged plaudits and media attention still make it play like a rock-solid MCU flick to the fanbase and the general audiences.

An opening like Age of Ultron and legs like Captain America: Civil War ($408 million from a $179.1m debut) still get Infinity War to $432m domestic. That may be enough to be the summer’s biggest domestic grosser, depending on how Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and The Incredibles 2 perform. Even with the hype, the film may just play like an upper-level MCU summer kick-off flick. After all, the folks who are super-psyched are going to show up even if the reviews are worse than Fantastic Four. Will the “it all ends here” gimmick get more casuals than usual to this MCU quasi-finale?

The Best-Case Scenario

When you’re dealing with best-case scenarios for a movie like this, the sky is literally the limit. Here is something of note to keep in mind. Let’s assume that the movie opens with over $200 million next weekend. How much over $200m is subject to discussion, but we’ve never had a really frontloaded $200m+ debut before. The movies that open that well tend to be well-liked and tend to stick around for a moment. Even the comparatively frontloaded The Last Jedi, which earned “just” $621m from a $220m debut weekend, had a 2.82x multiplier which would be near the upper-realms of MCU multipliers.

A 2.82x multiplier from a $200 million debut gets Infinity War to $564m domestic, which is almost certainly big enough to be the biggest domestic hit of the summer. The other four $200m+ openers (The Avengers, Jurassic World, The Force Awakens and Black Panther) had multipliers ranging from 3.77x (The Force Awakens) to 3x (The Avengers). If it opens above $200m, I would wager than a 2.8x multiplier may be the bottom for Infinity War. That’s especially true if A) it’s good and B) it has buzzy moments which justify a second or third theatrical viewing in IMAX, Dolby Vision.

If it tops The Force Awakens on opening weekend and ends up with Avengers (or better) legs, then we may be looking at a $750m-$942m domestic total. That may sound insane, and it most likely is. Age of Ultron legs from a $250m debut still gets the flick to $600m domestic. For the record, Infinity War would essentially have to sell about as many tickets as The Avengers six years ago to top the domestic total of Black Panther. Considering this is the third or fourth Avengers team-up movie and not the first Avengers (or the first Black Panther), that would… surprise me.

If I had to put money on a scenario, I would put a token amount on an over/under $225 million debut weekend and then, presuming it’s any good, a multiplier about in line with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ($389m/$146m) for an over/under $600m domestic total. It may challenge The Force Awakens’s opening weekend record, and it may challenge The Last Jedi ($621m) or Jurassic World ($652m), but that is not a requisite for success any more than it was for Black Panther after its $202m debut. But that extra week of release may give it an advantage over its early-May MCU competition.

The Late April Factor

Avengers: Infinity War will open a week earlier than the standard summer kick-off MCU flick. This was to avoid spoilers from its overseas debut, to take a shot at the global opening weekend record (Universal/Comcast Corp.’s Fate of the Furious’ $542 million global launch last April) and to give the “everyone into the pool” MCU flick an extra week away from Deadpool 2 and Solo. Here’s the thing: One of the reasons why The Avengers was able to run as far as it did even after scoring the first $200m debut was that it had three weeks before any real competition.

Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows bombed and Peter Berg’s Battleship was a domestic disaster, so it wasn’t until weekend four when it had real competition via Men In Black 3 over Memorial Day weekend. Age of Ultron had to deal with Pitch Perfect 2 (a $70m debut weekend) and Mad Max: Fury Road (a buzzy-as-hell $46m debut weekend) on its third frame, which contributed to its swifter decline. Iron Man 3 had to deal with The Great Gatsby ($50m debut) in weekend two, Star Trek into Darkness ($83m Thurs-Sun) in weekend three and then Fast and Furious 6 and Hangover 3 over Memorial Day weekend.

OK, so Captain America: Civil War had little competition (Money Monster, The Nice Guys, Angry Birds, etc.) until Memorial Day (X-Men: Apocalypse and Alice Through the Looking Glass, both of which underwhelmed) and it was the most frontloaded MCU flick ever. All due respect to the early May releases (Breaking In, Life of the Party, Overboard, etc.), but the Russos’ Avengers: Infinity War will still run the board right up until Deadpool 2 on May 18. So, since it has an extra weekend of “summer play,” it’ll be like The Avengers where it had three weeks to kick butt instead of two.

If there is a factor, presuming the film works as IMAX-friendly entertainment, that may cause a leggier run even with a possibly gonzo-bananas debut weekend, it’ll be that extra week of playtime before the other summer flicks roll into town. One of the key reasons that The Avengers played as well as it did was because it pulled down post-debut weekday numbers in May that played like “school’s out for the summer” mid-June days. With little competition, a “very good” Infinity War could very well pull a similar trick and flirt with a 2.7-3x multiplier even with a sky-high $215-$255m debut weekend.

But Wait, What If …?

It’s possible the MCU vs. Thanos epic will be lousy or “problematic” in a way that hurts the reception. An Infinity War that ends on a “Liam Neeson is gonna punch some wolves” cliffhanger may leave a sour taste, as did similar cliffhangers for Matrix Reloaded ($279 million from a $134m Thurs-Sun debut) and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay part I ($333m from a $121m debut). I am curious how audiences will react if Infinity War is indeed a Thanos story with our heroes in supporting roles (like that great season seven X-Files episode told from the monster’s point-of-view), but that’s a conversation for tomorrow.

But aside from that, or unforeseen variables (“Seven days!”), this is what we’re dealing with in terms of how Avengers: Infinity War will perform. Think a worst-case-scenario of $432 million domestic, a best-case scenario of $750m, and a “realistic” scenario of $600m. As for overseas, take your domestic guess and divide it by either 40% or 35% and you get a likely global total. So, somewhere between $1.08 billion ($432m/$645m) and $1.71b worldwide ($600m /$1.14b). Okay, fine, not going to happen, but also throw in $2.142b worldwide ($750m/$1.392b). If you’re the sort who bets against the Harlem Globetrotters, take that figure and bet the farm.

OK, that’s enough for now. I do want to discuss one odd record that it may well break even if the others (opening weekend, opening day, etc.) remain intact, but that’s for tomorrow as we wait for the first batch of reviews.

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