Audiences Flock to Planet Hulk
By David Mumpower
June 15, 2008
The Summer 2008 hot streak continued this weekend as two new titles were released into theaters. Each found a significant amount of success relative to expectations. The Incredible Hulk had a Marvelous opening while M. Night Shyamalan's latest folly, The Happening, overcame tremendous critical scorn to open well beyond projections. There could be only one winner, of course, and it proved to be the not-so-jolly green giant.
The Incredible Hulk wins the weekend with an estimated $54.5 million. Showing in a relatively wide 3,505 venues, the comic book adaptation has a stellar per-location average of $15,549. We'll discuss the how and why of this in a moment. For now, let's focus upon how the title compares to its disavowed predecessor, The Hulk. The 2003 release earned $62.1 million in its opening weekend, a total that inflation-adjusts to a $72.3 million opening. Exhibited in even more theaters, 3,660, that title had a per-location average of $16,975. As you can see, the update falls short of the film it follows in terms of actual dollars. The Ed Norton version, however, needs to be placed in the proper perspective in order to evaluate its weekend performance. It has faced difficulties the Ang Lee/Eric Bana release did not. What The Incredible Hulk did have going for it, however, was the Marvel brand name, which is arguably at an all-time high.
Marvel Studios had already found success once this summer, but the marketing campaign for their second title, The Incredible Hulk, was daunting. So complete a failure was 2003's The Hulk that almost no consumers had a positive opinion about the Ang Lee take on the iconic comic book character. With Marvel now attempting to self-finance the adaptations of their licensed characters, the fledgling company realized that they would have complete autonomy with regards to decision making. One of their first key choices was to attempt to redeem The Hulk in anticipation of using him in a later release, the planned 2011 tentpole title, The Avengers. In order to set the table for that scenario, however, they faced a significant obstacle in getting another standalone Hulk movie off the ground.
Like Batman Begins in 2005, The Incredible Hulk shared the unique difficulty of being a sequel whose predecessor left an onus rather than consumer desire for later franchise viewings. This would have seemed to be an impossible task were it not for the fact that the aforementioned Batman Begins did just this. So, Marvel needed to take a cue from their main competitors at DC Comics in re-introducing their character to mainstream movie-goers in a way that make them forgiving of the recent slight. 2003 was not that long ago and people really, really, really hated that movie, the first adaptation of The Hulk. Overcoming its stigma would take a deft touch.
What Marvel Studios did was slip in some allusions to its June release in its more easily marketed May title, Iron Man. Given that this release is on the cusp of earning $300 million domestically (it will surpass that total this week), that is a ton of free advertising for The Incredible Hulk. When news was leaked that the post-credits of Iron Man included the set-up for The Avengers, another free news cycle of coverage was given to Hulk. Using events in no way involving their June release, Marvel got an unprecedented amount of coverage for its later title through the success of its May blockbuster. That's masterful marketing.