Maybe by the time you’re reading this Sunday Avengers: Endgame will have earned the necessary $500,000 to surpass Avatar as the highest grossing film worldwide. That’s a major feat and one I’ve been pulling for as Endgame seemed like the only film that had a legit shot at defeating Avatar’s decade long run as the top gun. Now the only question left is can any film possibly top Endgame?
With Avatar, James Cameron had a stranglehold on the top two highest grossing films worldwide. Titanic held the record since 1997 with a still impressive $2,187 billion. To put this in context, you’d have to go to No. 33 on the all-time list to find another film from the 1990s (Jurassic Park – $1,027 billion). Titanic withstood challenger after challenger for 12 years with nothing coming close until Avatar finally surpassed it with $2,788 billion.
Avatar didn’t start to have any real contenders to its throne until 2012 when Marvel’s The Avengers started burning up the box office and really launching the comic book blockbuster bonanza. Still, Titanic proved to be an iceberg sized obstacle and eventually Avengers lost steam and “settled” for the No. 3 spot on the list with $1,518 billion.
Avengers wasn’t able to get the job done, but it kickstarted serious franchise contenders from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Jurassic World and Fast & the Furious series. Even then no film cracked the vaunted $2 billion club until Star Wars: Episode 7 – The Force Awakens with $2,068.2 billion.
Context is important here as the 2015 film was the unexpected launch of a new Star Wars trilogy that followed the future adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Leia and a new generation of heroes. The anticipation and excitement for The Force Awakens was unprecedented as it came the closest to earning a billion dollars in the U.S. alone with $936,662 million.
Three other films from 2015 entered the all-time worldwide list — No. 6 Jurassic World ($1,671.7 billion), No. 8 Furious 7 ($1,516.0 billion) and No. 8 Avengers: Age of Ultron ($1,405.4 billion). Let’s break down each of those challengers.
Like Force Awakens, Jurassic World followed a long hiatus of the series as it had been 14 years since Jurassic Park III was in theaters, providing enough time for a new generation of parents to share the film with their children.
Furious 7 was the final film in the Fast and Furious series for co-lead Paul Walker. The tragic nature of his death helped propel the seventh entry in the series to its high mark as fans saw this as an opportunity to say farewell to a beloved character. Age of Ultron followed the highest grossing comic book film of all time and was the only film of the trio that could be considered a disappointment.
Over the next two years no film came close until 2008 when a pair of new arrivals stirred up some major box office interest. Black Panther became a worldwide phenomena and domestically became the highest grossing comic book film topping even The Avengers with $700 million.
Worldwide, Black Panther’s success was good enough for a spot in the Top 10 club with $1,346.9 billion. While Black Panther had the benefit of starring in Captain America: Civil War, it was by far the biggest debut standalone film for an MCU film. Yet as impressive as Black Panther was it was still far away from Titanic or Force Awakens.
Later in 2018, Marvel Studios released its biggest threat to the Avatar, Titanic and Force Awakens triumvirate with Avengers: Infinity War. Similar to Black Panther, Infinity War became an event movie where everyone had to see it. Infinity War couldn’t beat Black Panther domestically with $678 million, but it did sidestep its predecessor to become the fourth member of the worldwide $2 billion club with $2,048.4 billion. While it was less than $20 million away from topping Force Awakens, Titanic remained safe until 2019.
Infinity War featured one of the most shocking and effective cliffhangers in movie blockbuster history so anticipation was high for its 2019 follow-up Endgame. Online ticket sales had hourlong waits and theaters basically abandoned other films to ensure customers could see Endgame. The strategy worked as Endgame set opening weekend records with $357,115 million domestically, $1,223.6 billion worldwide and $866,526 million.
Let’s consider Endgame’s path to success and why its all-time record won’t be broken.
1. It was the culmination of 22 films
Marvel Studios’ serialized storytelling is something that’s never been attempted in cinematic history. There’s a thread of connectivity in each of the 21 films that led to Endgame. It was billed as the end of the saga that really got going in 2012 with Avengers, but the foundation was laid in 2008. We’ve seen numerous studios try and fail to establish connected movie universes proving there’s only one Marvel Studios. There could be some big runaway surprise hit a la Black Panther, but getting past Avengers is something only four films have accomplished and two of them are Avengers films.
2. The nostalgia well has dried up
Star Wars and Jurassic Park benefited from long breaks to make audiences miss them. There’s not a lot of beloved franchises in the Top 50 that could launch a new series that could be a strong enough contender. Cameron’s plans for Avatar sequels hasn’t stirred up the kind of buzz to suggest they could break in the all-time Top 20 let alone challenge Endgame.
3. This was the pinnacle of the comic book movie era
Fans appreciated the work Marvel Studios put into making this cohesive universe, navigating it without any huge scandals and casting likeable and endearing actors who in many ways embodied the heroes they portrayed in real life. The MCU became the measuring stick for other comic book films and few could match up. With Disney for various reasons exhausting much of the earlier goodwill with the Star Wars fan base, there’s no film or franchise on the horizon that seems in a prime position to dislodge Avatar or Titanic.
4. Marvel’s fanbase was invested in this record
When Marvel “re-released” Endgame in theaters, many of the main cast members took to social media encouraging their followers to help it beat Avatar.
— Robert Downey Jr (@RobertDowneyJr) June 26, 2019
It was a call to action the fans took seriously and responded to quickly enough to beat the digital and home video release deadline. Typically, fans kinda care about this stuff, but not to the extent we’ve seen with Endgame. Can you imagine fans rallying to help Avatar 2 dethrone Endgame? When you put out consistently good products you can call on a favor or two from the fanbase and they were all too happy to help make history.
What do you think? Is there a chance another film can catch up and beat Endgame?
Photo Credit: Disney, Universal Pictures