When the post-credits scene of 2008’s Iron Man had a one-eyed Samuel Jackson talk about something called the Avengers initiative, a few ‘whoo’s and ‘yay’s went up in the theatre. Those were the comic geeks who got what Samuel Jackson was talking about. Four years later we all understand too, and we have been ever grateful to Disney / Marvel for dreaming so big and executing it to perfection. The journey from 2008 to 2012 was not that rosy as you might end up imagining now. Iron Man franchise was a huge success no doubt, and Robert Downey Jr. was a star again. But the rebooted attempt to get the green giant, Hulk, back on the big screen did not go down too well. And the first introductions of Thor and Captain America were received well critically but were moderate successes only on the box-office. Five movies from the Marvel cinematic universe prior to the release of The Avengers garnered $2.29 billion at the global box-office, which equates to average earnings of about $460 million per film. And then came The Avengers.
The Avengers was a bold idea to put on screen. For that matter, creating this whole cinematic universe where completely different films are linked to each other was itself bold. But getting so many superheroes together, staying true to their personalities, giving each one of them enough space on screen, and create friction and bonding between different pairs of them, it must have been a hell of a task to make this film. Hats off to Joss Whedon for the amazing screenplay and then the eventual execution of it! Marvel studio also put a lot of faith in this film by allowing $220 million to be spent on its production. Adding say another $100 million for marketing expenses, the movie would have needed to earn around $650 million to break-even, which is way more than the average earnings of the Marvel movies we talked about earlier. But the studio understood the market right; it had created a strong demand for the superhero flicks, mainly through its Iron Man series, and also probably partly helped by Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight which took superhero films to a whole new level. And so The Avengers stormed the cinema halls in the summer of 2012, earning a staggering $1.52 billion worldwide, which included $623 million from North America alone! It was loved by all, and I mean all, irrespective of your age, gender, and your love for comics or lack of it. The Avengers became the third biggest hit in Hollywood history, and Disney and Marvel would have known then, that the superhero universe of theirs is something way bigger than what even they would have imagined.
Move to Phase-II. Everything has become bigger, and in most cases, better. There is a huge global appeal now for the Marvel films, and everything is seen as an extension of The Avengers. Iron Man 3 was the first film to release in the post-Avengers era, and it promptly crossed $1 billion mark, to make it the second film in the Marvel franchise to do so. The thing I love about the Marvel and Disney studio executives in this case is that they have not rested on their laurels. So many sequels are ruined because of sheer laziness as well as lack of thought-process in how to take the first movie’s story forward. No such problem here. I loved how Shane Black brought his own edgy tone to Iron Man 3, how Alan Taylor developed the character of Thor further in Thor: The Dark World, and how the Russo brothers carved a superb thriller in a superhero genre and raised the bar with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. With the success of The Avengers along with continued effort on quality movie-making, the sequels have been enormously successful. At the global box-office, earnings of Iron Man 3 was up by a whopping 95% as compared to its predecessor, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was up by 93%, and Thor: The Dark World was up by 44%.
The litmus test in the post-Avengers era was the release of Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014. It brought together a lesser known bunch of superheroes, which had not been mentioned in the Marvel cinematic universe so far, and only had the goodwill of Marvel to go with. Not many expected it to be as successful as the other Marvel films who had well-known characters that had played a part in The Avengers. But Marvel cannot fail! Director James Gunn brought in humour that seemed to have gone missing from this genre, along with great special effects, action sequences and a fascinating story, and kept the reputation of Marvel intact. The movie grossed $774 million worldwide which is in fact the third-highest tally among the Marvel films. The four movies thus released after The Avengers have earned $3.35 billion collectively, i.e. an average of about $840 million per film which is about 80% higher than the average earnings calculated for the pre-Avengers period. The numbers speak for themselves! The Avengers was a game-changer.
Avengers: Age of Ultron will bring the conclusion of Phase-II of the Marvel era. Within a few months, the next phase will begin with Ant-Man. Phase-III will be a mix of sequels for the existing characters like Captain America, Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy, as well as introduction of newer ones like Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Inhumans and Captain Marvel. The partnership with Sony to bring Spider-Man into the Avengers universe is also an exciting idea, which gives the people at Marvel something fresh to work with. And there are two movies of the Avengers which will release in Phase-III. Everything about the Marvel universe continues to remain ambitious, and that is the way we want it to be. Bold, dynamic, entertaining, Marvel is its own biggest competitor in the film industry when it comes to superhero movies, and we hope it keeps winning.