By Reagen Sulewski
July 24, 2011
Prior to the weekend, expectations were set that Captain America would run a close second to the world-beating Harry Potter franchise in its last installment. The lesson: never bet against Cap.
After what had seemed like flagging box office for comic book films this summer and an overexposure to the genre in general, expectations for Captain America: The First Avenger had been muted. Perhaps that was a bit of an overreaction, as it managed the third opening weekend win for a Marvel franchise film this summer, and the fourth for comic-inspired films. The Joe Johnston-helmed film opened to an estimated $65.8 million at 3,715 venues, for an approximately $17,700 per venue average, the strongest of all four major comic movies this summer.
This came after a $25.6 million opening day (including midnight sneaks), giving it a 2.58 weekend internal multiplier, on the lower end of acceptable, but roughly in line with other tentpole films from this summer. Although actuals will tell the final story, this figure makes it the highest opening of the four comic book films this summer, edging out its studio and sub-franchise mate Thor by a suspiciously small $100,000. When it ends up falling a little short of Thor when the estimates fall away, you won't be seeing my shocked face.
However, that's still a solid result for a film that was expected to be a bit of an also-ran coming so late in the summer and with a character that hasn't always been foremost in the minds of movie audiences. With a budget of $140 million, which is middle of the road for summer tentpoles these days, it's well positioned to turn a solid profit, though international box office may be more limited thanks to the America-centric nature of the film. There's little data to go on this weekend for that, though, as Italy and Poland were the only two international markets to get the film this weekend. It's also worthwhile to remember that the film serves a dual purpose, both in making money on its own, and in selling next summer's Avengers film, which collects four franchises' worth of heroes and some flotsam and jetsam into a mega-franchise.
Even with this slightly rosy picture, it still does represent a bit of a fatigue issue with comic book films. It was only last year that Iron Man, which is also being brought under the Avengers wing, opened to nearly double this amount. You can bring out the “well, that was a sequel” argument, but which then doesn't explain why the first Iron Man movie cracked $100 million and new comic book movies are struggling to crack 60% of that mark. It's far too early to push the panic button for studios, but as they run out of A-list properties and/or increasingly need to resort to the reboot/spin-off model, there's not going to be the automatic success that they've depended on for the past ten years or so.
I don't want to get too pessimistic here, as reviews were generally positive and word-of-mouth even more so, so Captain America has a good chance of ruling the charts for a couple of weekends, but five years ago this might have been an easy $300 million film. Now? Well, $200 million seems possible.