With Marvel's Black Panther surpassing even the rosiest expectations at the box office, it's worth wondering if the film has what it takes to gross more than Avengers: Infinity War. Released to widespread critical acclaim and much audience fan fare, the latest from director Ryan Coogler became a cultural phenomenon. Initial box office projections had it pegged for an opening weekend in the $90 million range, but it far exceeded that with a grand total of $202 million (the fifth-highest debut of all-time). Additionally, its 4-day haul of $242 million is the second biggest ever, behind only Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Simply put, Black Panther got the Marvel Cinematic Universe's 10th anniversary off to an explosive start, and things should only get bigger from here. Next on the docket is Infinity War, which is 10 years and 18 films in the making. Finally bringing big bad Thanos to the forefront, directors Joe and Anthony Russo unite basically every single living MCU hero for the culmination of a massive arc that seemed overly ambitious just a handful of years ago. Infinity War will undoubtedly be one of the top earners in 2018, but will it top Panther? That's what we're analyzing here.
The Avengers At The Box Office
It's easy to forget now, but the MCU had rather humble beginnings during the Phase 1 days. With the exception of the first two Iron Man installments, none of the studio's films were exactly world-beaters commercially. The Incredible Hulk remains the franchise's worst performer with only $134.8 million domestically, while the first Thor ($181 million) and Captain America ($176.6 million) were modestly successful in the summer of 2011. These numbers paled in comparison to Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy and did not top the latter two installments of the original X-Men trilogy. At this point, the MCU was making money, but its stars were living up to their "B level" status.
That all changed when the original Avengers kicked off the summer 2012 season with a then record-breaking $207.4 million in its opening weekend - the first time a film brought in $200+ million in only three days. The reasoning for this was twofold. Not only did the movie live up to the hype with strong word-of-mouth, it was also something audiences had never seen before. It combined four different franchises into a mega-crossover, revolutionizing Hollywood's business model (for better and worse) by illustrating the potential of the "shared movie universe." The Avengers was also the first realistic challenger for Avatar's all-time domestic mark, finishing its run with an astonishing $623.3 million in the United States. It is still the MCU's top film in terms of box office numbers.
Things changed slightly when the sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron came out in 2015. Though there's no denying the film was a commercial success, it could not match the figures posted by its predecessor. For the opening weekend, Ultron grossed $191.2 million and ended with a domestic total of $459 million - $164.3 million less than the first Avengers. The most likely culprit for this was the mixed response to the film itself, but there's no denying the novelty of seeing these heroes unite in one movie had worn off a bit. That "novelty" theory gained more credence in 2016, when Captain America: Civil War (an Avengers film in spirit with two battling superhero teams) debuted with $179.1 million en route to a $408 million total. It's true each of these crossed $1 billion worldwide, but there were "diminishing returns" (relatively speaking), and Iron Man 3 made more globally than Civil War.
This provides us with a ballpark for how Infinity War should do when it comes out. Odds are, it won't be able to surpass the first Avengers, and there's even some question if it will reach $200 million in its first three days. Yes, there have been five such weekends in six years, but that's still an incredibly tough figure to reach that needs perfect circumstances. Two of the films to hit that mark are Star Wars films (which are beasts unto themselves with no realistic comparison) and another was the first Jurassic Park movie in nearly 15 years, one that tapped into nostalgia for the landmark original. As we've established, Marvel's two big team-ups since Avengers did not hit $200 million, so it'll be interesting to see how Infinity War opens. There's a sizable chance Black Panther has the better opening weekend of the two.
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