What It Will Take For Avengers: Age Of Ultron To Be The Top-Grossing Movie Of All Time


Other than death and taxes, the surest thing out there right now is that Avengers: Age of Ultron is going to make a lot of money when it hits theaters in a few weeks.

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Let’s start with the fact that its predecessor, The Avengers, is the third-highest-grossing movie of all time, making over $623 million in the US during its run. Add in the return of director Joss Whedon and the star-studded cast, new characters that even the general public wants to see (Age of Ultron currently has a 100 percent “want to see” rating on Rotten Tomatoes), Marvel’s continuing track record of film success and the unparalleled Disney marketing machine and you’ve got all the ingredients needed for a ridiculous amount of dough.

But is it enough to be the top-grossing movie of all time? The current holder of the domestic crown is Avatar at just a tad under $750 million. It’s been the record holder for five years and seems ripe for getting bumped out of the top spot.

Normally, we could just look at how Avatar did week by week and set some mileposts for where Age of Ultron would have to be at different points in May and June to see if it was on track to become no. 1. The problem there is that it can’t be an apples to apples comparison, because Avatar is the ultimate outlier among blockbuster movies: it opened relatively small (just $77 million in its opening weekend, good for 62nd place all time), and made the majority of its money in January and February of 2010, when it had very little box office competition. As a result, it actually increased what it made week-over-week in its second and ninth weeks of release, which is almost unheard of in the 21st century.

In contrast, Avengers: Age of Ultron will be opening the always busy summer movie season of 2015 and will likely fall off in revenue each week, no matter how awesome it is. That doesn’t mean it can’t end up on top, just that it’ll be more difficult to predict if it’s on target.

With that in mind, here’s what Age of Ultron will have to do to have a legitimate shot at becoming the top-grossing movie of all time:

Have a historic opening

Many media outlets have been predicting an opening weekend of over $200 million for Age of Ultron, but they aren’t exactly going out on a limb there since its predecessor managed to rake in $207.4 million. That ended up as 33 percent of its overall domestic total, so just ending up with a record won’t be enough for the sequel. It needs to crush the record, to the tune of $250 million or so.

Is that possible? It’s tough to say since no other movie has even cracked $175 million in its first weekend. Ticket prices have gone up an average of 34 percent since The Avengers debuted in 2012, so even if the exact same number of tickets are sold for the follow-up, we could expect it to pull in about $216 million.

That’s not enough, but super hero sequels also have a tendency to open stronger in general. Here are just a few examples of notable opening weekend figures:

  • Iron Man – $98.6 million, Iron Man 2 – $128.1 million, Iron Man 3 – $174.1 million
  • Captain America: The First Avenger – $65.1 million, Captain America: The Winter Soldier – $95 million
  • Thor – $65.7 million, Thor: The Dark World – $85.7 million

There are examples outside Marvel as well (things like the Pirates of the Caribbean series, for instance), as well as some that didn’t follow this pattern, but the trend looks good for Age of Ultron.

Get good reviews

In terms of its first weekend, Age of Ultron is the proverbial critic-proof film. Even if the consensus is that it sucks, it’s not going to matter for those first few days.

Where it will hurt is in its staying power, or how much it drops off each week after the first. The Avengers had a 51 percent drop from its opening week in 2012, which isn’t unusual for a movie of its type. It slowed after that and held up pretty well for a while, bringing in over $10 million even in the last week of June.

Some of that can be attributed to the fact that it got very positive pro reviews and word of mouth, earning scores in the low 90s in both areas on Rotten Tomatoes. Even today, there are people who don’t rush out and see movies the first day or two they come out, and they’re more likely to go if the buzz is positive. Also, it goes without saying that more comic fans will be up for repeated viewings if the flick is actually good.

You don’t need to crush it with critics to succeed in this area — Avatar received good but not jaw-dropping scores in the low 80s — but you certainly can’t set the record without people saying good things about you.

Other movies might have to disappoint

This is the real wild card. If the other movies releasing in the next few weeks after May 1 are underwhelming, it’ll help Age of Ultron‘s chances of drawing in folks who want to hit the multiplex but have no real strong preference for what they’re seeing. I’m not talking about stuff like Hot Pursuit or Pitch Perfect 2, which are clearly alternatives to big budget summer fare, but films that are competing directly for portions of the same audience.

I see a few in May and early June that could qualify. Mad Max: Fury Road releases on May 15 and looks visually stunning, at the very least. The following week sees the premieres of both the Poltergeist reboot and Disney’s own Tomorrowland, and both of them could siphon off different parts of the general moviegoing public. There’s also San Andreas on May 29 with tons of showy special effects and the charisma of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

By the time Jurassic World arrives on June 12, it will undoubtedly be the king of the box office for June, and we’ll know a lot more about the trajectory of Age of Ultron by that point at any rate.

So just for review, here’s what I think it’ll take for Age of Ultron to take down Avatar: an opening weekend at least approaching $250 million, positive buzz from both the press and the public and underwhelming showings by Mad Max: Fury Road, Tomorrowland and a few other movies. That’s asking a lot, but it’s certainly not impossible, and given what Marvel has been able to accomplish so far, would you really be willing to bet against it?

(All box office data via Box Office Mojo)

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