Thor Hammers Summer Box Office Start
By John Hamann
May 8, 2011
So it begins. Summer at the box office got started in earnest this weekend with the release of Marvel's Thor, after getting a clean break from the winter/spring doldrums last weekend with an $86 million Fast Five opening. With the strong start for the Vin Diesel movie in the last frame, would there be room for two blockbusters this early in May? Would Marvel continue their streak of at least $50 million over the opening frame despite a lesser-known comic book movie in Thor? Would the counter-programming efforts of Something Borrowed and Jumping the Broom work? Read on to find out.
While we have two summer blockbusters in release this weekend in Thor and Fast Five, summer didn't always start this early. Prior to the late-1990s, summer didn't start at movie theaters until Memorial Day at the earliest. Take 1997, for example. Early May of '97 saw the debut of The Fifth Element, one of the first attempts at making big money in early May, but the experiment failed domestically, with the Bruce Willis film opening to $17 million on May 9th. The Fifth Element did start a big trend, though, as it was a summer film that earned over $200 million overseas, waking up Hollywood up to the fact that there could be big money overseas with the right kind of film. Like most years before 1997, the box office summer got started on Memorial Day, when The Lost World: Jurassic Park did $90 million over four days. A year later, things changed. Paramount opened Deep Impact on May 8, 1998, and it exploded, opening to $41.2 million. In my mind, Deep Impact changed box office history. A year later, The Mummy opened on May 7, 1999, to $43 million, and on May 5, 2000, Gladiator opened to $34.8 million. On May 4, 2001, the envelope was pushed, and The Mummy Returns opened to $68 million, proving the box office stratosphere could be reached in the first weekend in May. A year later, Sony opened Spider-Man on May 3, 2002, which set a record at the time with a $114.8 million opening weekend, ushering in the era of the modern movie superhero, and making the Marvel brand a giant in the movie business.
A bucketload of Marvel superhero films, and about $7 billion worldwide later, one of the lesser-known Marvel stars is up this weekend, this time in the form of Thor. As a lesser-known, expectations were varied heading in to the weekend for Thor, but Marvel and Paramount will be happy with a $66 million start from 3,955 venues, many of those 3D. Thor had a venue average of $16,688. The Norse God got started on Thursday at midnight, pulling in approximately $3.2 million, before earning a powerful $25.7 million on Friday. Tracking was looking for a $60 million opening, with Paramount lowering expectations even further, calling for a $50-60 million opening.
With the midnight screenings, identifying a proper weekend multiplier (weekend gross divided by Friday gross) becomes a little more difficult. We have to pull out the $3.2 million from the Friday gross to get $22.5 million, and divide that into the weekend gross to get a multiplier of 2.9. While that gives us a "proper" multiplier, it doesn't compare well with other Marvel films historically, as midnight grosses are often lumped in with Friday grosses. Ang Lee's The Hulk opened to $62.1 million in 2003, after pulling in $24.9 million on opening day, giving it a weekend multiplier of 2.5 – however, we don't know how Hulk did at midnight on Thursday. The first Iron Man had a multiplier of 2.6; the original X-Men 2.54; Fantastic Four 2.63; Spider-Man 2.91.