Well done Marvel, you’ve handed Disney another hit. Not just a hit, indeed, but a massive, record-breaking, box-office-smashing, global success story. Or so we’re told.
Whilst it was never in doubt that Avengers: Infinity War would debut big at the box office, few predicted just how much money the nineteenth film in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe would rake in after just one weekend of release. It is estimated that Infinity War made almost $641m worldwide in its first four days, proving faster and more furious than previous record holder: The Fate and the Furious. Once upon a time analysts asked: will Avengers Assemble make a billion? Now, we wonder: when will Avengers: Infinity War make its first billion?
More powerful than a fully-loaded infinity gauntlet, the media machine has been quick to hail the film’s incomparable – ‘cosmic’ – success. Such hyperbole will be music to Mickey’s ears, a thrill for fans and boon for shareholders but is only the surface of the story. A lot more avenging is required for Infinity War to truly succeed.
Very few films dared to open alongside Infinity War at the weekend. In fear of annihilation, studios across Hollywood scrambled to avoid the indomitable competition. One David that was prepared to tackle Disney’s Goliath, however, was indie film Beast, the Jessie Buckley-starring thriller about a serial killer in Jersey. Produced on a shoe-string budget and released into just 82 cinemas, the film, which is Michael Pearce’s directorial debut, managed a respectable £127,000. This is roughly on a par with God’s Own Country, the Francis Lee film that rolled on to a $2.2m final figure. Just a touch less than the Avengers then.
Had Beast launched with a six-digit opening weekend box office, it would have been the cinematic story of a generation. Although, on the face of it, Infinity War dwarfed the Pearce film, perspective is everything in the film industry. Neither production has yet broken even, never mind made a profit.
Imagine for a moment that everyone who wanted to see Infinity War had done so in its opening weekend. In such a scenario, presuming none went back for a second screening the following week, that opening weekend would represent the entire box office taking for the run. To this end, $641m would be a catastrophe for all involved. In reality, this is not the case. Infinity War will, in all likelihood, continue to top global box office rankings for several weeks more; it absolutely needs to.
With a rumoured production budget of up to $400m, the film is among the most expensive ever made, unadjusted for inflation. If it seems, initially, that Disney have already broken even, that’s because this alleged total is only the tip of the iceberg. The truth is, we will never know exactly how much money has been pumped into Infinity War as the studio will never release its marketing costs. Posters, trailers, press junkets, cast interviews, flash mobs, banners, cinema distribution…every time Disney made you aware that it had a major new film on the horizon, they paid for it. Several hundred million dollars worth of promotion sits above the production budget; investment that will take quite some shifting. Infinity War needs to more than double its production costs to even start making money. This is a film that could make a billion but lose millions.
Breaking even is a feat many films fail to manage every year. Last year, Denis Villeneuvre’s long-awaited Blade Runner 2049 underperformed, whilst Cleopatra famously flopped back in 1963. John Carter, Mars Needs Moms and Guy Ritchie’s recent King Arthur blockbuster are just three among the long list of bombs that litter film history. Even Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix came in at a loss, despite making $940m. High-budget filmmaking is a risk only taken by the brave.
Moving into its second week, Infinity War seems to be holding up. Cinemas across the world report filled screening on a daily basis. Indeed, come Saturday it will have entered ten digits. Add to the box office Disney’s proficiency with tie-in retail marketing and Marvel surely have nothing to fear. Yet, contrary to what you’ve heard, it’s never a given. Always be wary when reality stones are at work.