Box Office Preview: The Avengers Finally Assemble!

It’s been an interesting year so far, mainly for reasons we already discussed last week, but now we’re onto the lucrative summer movie season, and it’s kicking off with what’s likely to be one of the biggest movies of the year and that’s Marvel’s The Avengers (Disney). Obviously it will be #1 this weekend, probably making more than the rest of the Top 10 combined… possibly even on Friday…. But can it really set the type of records that many seem to be expecting?

We’ve covered the movies from Marvel Studios quite extensively over the years, and 2008’s Iron Man was clearly a watershed for the superhero movie genre with its sequel two years later opening even bigger, even if it was not considered to be the best sequel. The other movies in between, Universal’s The Incredible Hulk and last year’s Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, both released by Paramount, have helped to build interest in the Marvel brand even if those three haven’t necessarily done as well at the box office.

The idea that the sum is the greater than the individual parts is what drives this supergroup movie that brings back Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson from the hugely-successful Iron Man 2, as well as Chris Hemsworth and popular bad boy Tom Hiddleston from Thor, Chris Evans from Captain America: The First Avenger and adding the new guys Jeremy Renner and Mark Ruffalo as Hawkeye and Dr. Bruce Banner, respectively. The funny thing is that other than Downey and maybe Evans, none of these actors could sell a big blockbuster yet somehow seeing so many individual heroes coming together on the screen in a way we haven’t really seen has gotten moviegoers excited. It’s all pulled together by director Joss Whedon, whose popularity among genre fans for his creation of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and other television shows, adds to the geek factor that tends to create enhanced opening weekends.

Now, when we wrote our Summer Box Office Preview a few weeks back, and our Summer Superheroes Movie piece a few months ago, we were thinking somewhere in the mid-$130 millions, but it’s pretty clear that the lack of strong new movies since the release of The Hunger Games has left a pretty wide gap for another big movie to come along and attract a huge opening weekend audience.

One thing that hasn’t really been addressed, but needs to be considered is that opening a movie internationally in advance of the States (as Marvel/Disney have done with this one) means there’s a good chance the movie has already been pirated and is online for those who really want to see it. The good news is that The Avengers really is the definition of a big screen theatrical experience that most fans will want to trek to the theaters to see even if the chance of piracy may indeed keep it from setting records.

Coming out a couple months after the enormous blockbuster The Hunger Games, anything less than $150 million may seem a little anti-climactic, but thankfully, buzz for the movie has been huge especially with the reaction from earlier press and fan screenings, some claiming it to be not only the best Marvel movie, but possibly even better than The Dark Knight. (This would be deemed sacrilege by some, I’m sure.)

This one’s definitely tracking up there with The Hunger Games and The Dark Knight in terms of awareness and interest, but the real question is whether women care enough about superheroes coming together to give The Avengers a look or whether this is solely a guy thing? We think this has been turned into a big enough event movie that they’ll find some excuse to go see it with their guys, which should help The Avengers open over $150 million, as will the higher ticket prices for IMAX and 3D, which will certainly be viable choices.

Maybe it would open higher if it was opening later in the summer, so Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows‘ opening weekend record is safe, as is The Dark Knight‘s $158 million, but it’s guaranteed to be Disney’s biggest opening ever. It shouldn’t have a problem besting Spider-Man 3‘s May opening record and have at least two weekends at #1 allowing it to end the summer with roughly $360 million or more.

Interview with Marvel Studios Prez Kevin Feige

Mini-Review: It’s hard to not get too sucked into all the hype after having to wait three long weeks to finally see the culmination of five years of work by Marvel Studios, but the story of how the Avengers come together is almost as simple as their origin from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby Avengers #1. This time, Loki is stealing the “Tesseract” (i.e. Cosmic Cube) introduced in last year’s movies to try to open a portal to bring an alien army to earth to help him conquer it. Realizing how much power Loki has in his hands, S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) goes against the orders of his superiors and brings together all the superheroes who have appeared on earth in recent years. The question is whether any of them can get along to focus their energies on the real threat.

After an introductory scene of Loki arriving on earth and stealing the Tesseract from S.H.I.E.L.D, the movie quickly puts on the brakes as it tries to find its footing in bringing together the various heroes. There’s a point during this section of this first act where you may feel the movie’s jumping around too much. We get a bit with Tony Stark and Pepper, a bit with Captain America, some stuff with Black Widow, and there’s Mark Ruffalo’s Dr. Bruce Banner. It seems like everyone has a scene with everyone else where they get to talk about stuff, and at times, the exposition is in danger of completely dragging the film’s pace down to a crawl. The key is that director Joss Whedon isn’t a good writer, he’s a great writer, and he has a way of writing dialogue that keeps you just as riveted to a scene of characters talking as he does with the action, and believe me, you’re going to get plenty of that after all these relationships are established. Even so, it just never feels as focused as the solo movies, which may leave some viewers unsure of whether they’re enjoying the movie fully or just waiting patiently for their favorite character to appear on screen.

Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is still by far the best part of the movie because he’s so sharp-witted and quick with a retort that he’s just bringing much-needed humor to everything. Chris Evans and Hemsworth hold up well against him, but the character who benefits the most from Whedon’s finesse is Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. Maybe it’s not too surprising considering how deft Whedon has been with female characters in the past, but there’s so much more to Natasha Romanoff here than we could have imagined from “Iron Man 2.” It’s way too hard to tell too much about how well Jeremy Renner pulls off Hawkeye, because he has an ultra-cool arsenal, but we don’t get nearly enough time to really get a handle on his personality.

Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury gets far more screen time than in any of the precursor movies, but his delivery of Whedon’s lines doesn’t do much to make the character feel any more three-dimensional. Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill seems to be there merely for additional eye candy, giving Nick Fury none of the friction that makes their relationship work so well in the comics. We’ve enjoyed Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson in previous Marvel movies but that’s because he’s been used in moderation; he seems as out of place among the big guns as Hill.

On the other hand, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki has grown even more deliciously evil and anyone going into “The Avengers” looking for Loki vs. Thor Round 2 won’t be disappointed. In fact, anyone who just wants to see a lot of superhero fighting, whether with words or shields and hammers, are given something worth their hard-earned dollars. In that sense, it’s the Hulk who completely steals the show and it’s by far the best we’ve seen the character used in any movie so far. The raging beast is there, but there’s also something more domesticated that allows him to play well and even have some fun with his fellow Avengers.

There’s certainly a lot to take in but Whedon finds a way of making every moment seem important to the overall story, making the most out of some of the best reveals like the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, which is a sight to behold. Somehow they manage to keep it from crashing and being destroyed in its first outing, which is already better than they’ve done in the comics where Helicarriers seemingly grow on trees. The entire film looks fantastic, even during the quieter moments, which is quite a testament to the team Whedon put together to build upon the solo movies.

The whole thing ends with 40 minutes of the most jaw-dropping and epic kick-ass battle between the combined superheroes against Loki and the impressive alien army of the Chitauri, complete with enormous “leviathans” that spout aliens like seeds. The massive destruction of New York City is up there with some of the best visual FX spectacles by Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich, but it’s made more impressive by Whedon never really having experience doing something so huge.

Alan Silvestri’s score? It’s nice and all but nothing that groundbreaking. A stronger and more contemporary composer could have greatly improved the earlier draggy parts and made more out of the epic scenes.

The movie ends with a great tease of what’s to come, leaving one confident that at whichever point “Avengers 2” begins, all the characters will already know each other and be ready to tackle whatever comes their way, so we can avoid all the stilted introductions of this movie. However you slice it, “The Avengers” isn’t going to be winning any awards or changing any lives, but Joss Whedon has successfully fulfilled every Avengers fanboy’s dream and that alone is a good enough reason to forgive some of the movie’s earlier faults.

Rating: 8.5/10

This weekend last year, Marvel Studios’ fourth movie Thor (Marvel/Paramount), starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman stormed into theaters with $65.7 million in 3,955 theaters, knocking the pre-summer blockbuster Fast Five down to second place with $32.4 million. Offered as counter-programming were the ensemble comedy Jumping the Broom (Screen Gems) and the romantic comedy Something Borrowed (Warner Bros.), starring Kate Hudson and Ginnifer Goodwin, which took third and fourth place with $15.2 and $13.9 million, respectively. The Top 10 grossed $152.5 million but since we think The Avengers will make that amount on its own, this weekend should be way up from last year.

This Week’s Updated Predictions

UPDATE: We’re adding a few more million to our prediction cause the number of sell-outs for midnight showing should mean close to $30 million in midnights alone, which pushes its opening day to somewhere around $73 million and probably close to $160 million.

1. Marvel’s The Avengers (Disney) – $158.0 million N/A (up 3.4 million)

2. Think Like a Man (Screen Gems) – $9 million -49%

3. The Pirates! Band of Misfits (Sony) – $6.7 million -40%

4. The Hunger Games (Lionsgate) – $6.0 million -45%

5. The Five-Year Engagement (Universal) – $5.6 million -47%

6. The Lucky One (New Line/WB) – $5.2 million -52%

7. Safe (Lionsgate) – $3.4 million -57%

8. Chimpanzee (Disneynature) – $2.9 million -45%

9. The Raven (Relativity) – $2.7 million -63%

10. The Three Stooges (20th Century Fox) – $2.5 million -52%

Speaking of supergroups, director John Madden pulls together an amazing cast of British acting vets for the ensemble comedy The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Fox Searchlight), including Dame Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie and Ronald Pickup as they all come together to enjoy retirement and recharge their lives at a remote hotel in India run by Dev Patel’s Sonny Kapoor. It opens in select cities on Friday.

Saw and Repo: The Genetic Opera director Darren Lynn Bousman’s Mother’s Day (Anchor Bay

Films) finally gets released, about a year after its original release date. In the film, three brothers head for home after a bank robbery gone wrong only to learn their Mother (Rebecca De Mornay) has been evicted, so they spend a night torturing the new owners (Jaime King, Frank Grillo) until Mother arrives to make things right.

Samuel L. Jackson and Luke Wilson star in Chris Fisher’s Meeting Evil (Magnet Releasing) with Wilson playing John Fleton, a man down on his luck and close to losing everything, who agrees to help Jackson’s Richie with his car, only to be sucked into the mindset of an evil individual who wants to prey upon John’s weaknesses and get him to do bad things. Also starring Leslie Bibb, it opens in Philadelphia on Friday and in Columbus on June 15. You’ll have to watch on VOD if you live elsewhere.

Miley Cyrus and Demi Moore star in Lisa Azuelos-Alessandrin’s comedy LOL (Lionsgate) about a mother and daughter who try to reconnect when they realize how far they’ve grown apart in the new age of YouTube and Facebook. It also stars Marlo Thomas, Gina Gershon, Ashley Greene and more.

Kathleen Turner stars in Anne Renton’s The Perfect Family (Variance Films) as a suburban mother who runs for “Catholic Woman of the Year” at her local parish, so she must get her family approved, which includes an alcoholic husband, a gay daughter (Emily Deschanel) about to marry her life-partner, and her married but cheating son (Jason Ritter).

Ian Fitzgibbons’ Death of a Superhero (Tribeca Film) stars Thomas Brodie-Sangster as teenager Donald who wants to be a comic book artist but who is suddenly struck by a life-threatening disease that puts him into a depression and into the hands of an unorthodox psychologist, played by Andy Serkis.It opens in Seattle following its run at the Tribeca Film Festival last week.

Jessica Yu’s latest doc Last Call at the Oasis (ATO Pictures) deals with the chances of there not being enough water left on the earth to sustain life on the planet, inspired by Alex Prud’homme’s book “The Ripple Effect” and following the work by real-life activist Erin Brockovich in trying to help communities plagued by unhealthy water supplies.

Kate Hudson and Gael Garcia Bernal star in the New Orleans romance A Little Bit of Heaven (Millennium Entertainment) about a woman who falls in love with her doctor after a life-changing visit (in which, we’re guessing she was diagnosed with some sort of life-threatening disease.) Rant Alert! Seriously, I sometimes wonder why the people who make these movies and seem to have so much money to throw away don’t just use that money for something useful, like settling the national debt, helping struggling third world countries or helping to settle the debt of a struggling New York writer like myself. I guess this is being offered as counter-programming to movies people actually want to see.

Next week, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp assemble (ha ha) for their eighth movie together, a comedic take on the cult ’60s television show Dark Shadows (Warner Bros.), once again the only movie opening next weekend…. If you don’t include the 30 limited releases. Ay-yi-yi.

You can read stuff like this and regular box office, awards and festival coverage on the new Weekend Warrior Blog and to keep up with the latest articles and posts, you can follow us on Twitter.

Copyright 2012 Edward Douglas


Marvel and DC