Before Captain America: The Winter Soldier even hit theaters it was confirmed that directors (and brothers) Anthony and Joe Russo would be helping plan out the story for Captain America 3 and again directing. It was a display of confidence from Marvel Studios and its key decision-maker Kevin Feige, but an unsurpising one considering the critical response to the film.
Early reviews of Captain America 2 labeled it one of the studio's best and now that it's out, it's certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, with numbers comparable to Iron Man and The Avengers, Marvel's two strongest scored films to date. And like fellow Marvel sequel Thor: The Dark World, the second Captain America film is serving as a test for the studio, releasing in theaters outside of the traditional key summer blockbuster dates. And it's working.
Thor 2 opened in November, and thanks to the boost of brand recognition from The Avengers, hit $85.7 million domestically on opening weekend. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, already having broke advanced ticket sales records for the month of April, is on track to potentially beat that number - an interesting switch since the original Thor outsold Captain America: The First Avenger two years ago (both opened summer 2011).
On Thursday, the day before opening wide in North America, 82% of all ticket pre-sales on Fandango were for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and the numbers beat out any other April release in the company's 14-year history. According to BoxOffice.com, the opening weekend forecast for Cap 2 is around $94 million, with some estimates putting it near $100 million. The current record-holder for April openings is Fast Five which earned $86.2 million in the final April weekend of 2011 (on week before the summer movie season officially begins).
While the weekend isn't quite over yet, we do have some numbers for comparison. Studio estimates have The Winter Soldier earning $10.2 million on its early Thursday evening screenings, beating last year's Man of Steel ($9 million) and Thor 2 ($8.8 million). It doesn't quite come close to the big summer mega hits Iron Man 3 ($15.6 million) and The Avengers ($18.7 million) though.
On Friday, the film broke an April box office record, bringing in $37 million from 3,938 theater screens across North America, approximately 80% of them in 3D. By comparison, previous record holder Fast Five earned $34.4 million in its top single-day. With over $100 million already made overseas where the film opened first, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is expected to have earned $270 million worldwide by the end of the weekend. Marvel has another big hit on their hands.
It's no surprise then that Captain America 3 will begin shooting next year for an expected May 2016 release, where it's currently sharing a weekend with big competitor Batman vs. Superman from DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. One of the films is expected to move and while Marvel Studios president of production Kevin Feige went on record starting that Marvel Studios has no plans to change dates, the April success of Captain America 2 could mean its followup sees its date pushed up to a similar weekend in 2016.
We spoke with Feige at the Captain America: The Winter Soldier junket a few weeks ago where we asked about the non-summer release dates of Marvel's Phase 2 films (Thor 2 in November, Cap 2 in April, and Guardians of the Galaxy in August) and he explained that they're seeing if their theory of releasing good movies is more important than the date itself.
"Well, there are two things: one, Sony had a Spider-Man movie on that first weekend in May, and we also want to try to expand that summer season, frankly. There are so many movies every weekend, and we started to look at other films that had done extremely well in March, extremely well in April, and really of the belief that if you put out a good movie, a good product, you can put it out any time of the year. We will test that in three weeks."
Of course, the release tests serve another purpose as well. With Sony planning to release Spider-Man films annually and Fox recently announcing 1-2 X-Men/Fantastic Four films per year, the amount of weekends and spacing between these tentpole releases is running out for Marvel-branded films, especially with Marvel Studios releasing two per year with talk of potentially expanding to three-four in the future.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Thor: The Dark World prove that Marvel Studios can succeed with releasing a pair of summer films and releasing them in the spring and fall. Is it a sign of things to come?
Like the posters above? The prints are by artist Rich Kelly and became available April 4th (day of film's release) at MondoTees.com and sold out in less than a day!
[Update: The total weekend estimate has Captain America: The Winter Soldier earning $96.2 million in its domestic opening with its worldwide total already at $303.3 million. It's the largest April opening of all-time.]
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is produced by Kevin Feige, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, from a screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, and stars Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp and Hayley Atwell, with Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is now in theaters, Guardians of the Galaxy opens August 1, 2014, The Avengers: Age of Ultron on May 1, 2015, Ant-Man on July 17, 2015, and unannounced films for May 6 2016, July 8 2016 and May 5 2017.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes for your Marvel movie and TV news!