Now that Avengers: Endgame has broken a slew of records in its first few days—including raking in $1.2 billion globally over its opening weekend—the parlor game is on: Will the latest Marvel blockbuster dethrone Avatar as the highest-grossing movie of all time?
Avatar grossed $2.8 billion globally back in 2009, putting it comfortably ahead of the No. 2 and No. 3 best-performing films of all time, Titanic ($2.19 billion) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($2.07 billion). Considering that Avatar made $77 million domestically its opening weekend, compared to Endgame‘s $356 million, the math seems easy. How could Endgame not beat out James Cameron’s CGI fantasy?
Already, Endgame has grossed more than any other movie in China its opening weekend ($330 million), which pushed up its international box office opening to $859 million, another record. It also grossed single-day highs on Thursday ($60 million) and Friday ($156.7 million).
But experts say there are reasons to remain cautious when it comes to predicting the film’s long haul, even as they freely admit that Endgame has “thrown the rule book out the window,” says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. “All preconceived notions of what a movie can do at the box office are now obliterated.”
The main mitigating factor is Endgame‘s pre-summer release date. Both Avatar and Titanic were released in December, meaning they didn’t face an onslaught of competition from summer blockbusters, and they hit screens at a time when families were enjoying more free time due to the holidays. “They had a much wider berth,” Dergarabedian says. “It was a much less competitive landscape.”
As the summer movie season gets underway, Endgame will soon be up against films like Detective Pikachu on May 10th, and John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum, which opens May 17th.
Engame has also established itself as a sprinter (i.e., a film that makes money quickly upon release), whereas both Avatar and Titanic were marathon runners, meaning their opening weekend grosses weren’t all that extraordinary—neither crossed the $100 million domestically. But due to strong word of mouth and stellar reviews—and the “event” nature of both of them—the films picked up traction and attracted new audiences for weeks to come. Partly this was because of the novelty factor. Neither film was a sequel or based on an existing property. Sure, people knew the basics of the Titanic’s history, but the film’s specific story was original, which meant that word of mouth played a much stronger role than it will with Endgame, the 22nd film in the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe and a title that Marvel fans have been eagerly awaiting for months. Avatar also benefited from being one of the first 3D films to exploit the medium in an artful way; people wanted to see the film as much for the movie as for the experience of seeing it in 3D.
Still, we shouldn’t underestimate the repeat-viewing trend, which is already underway with Endgame, or the fact that fans who wanted to avoid the crush of opening weekend crowds will start to come out over the coming weeks to see the film. Endgame is also generating a strong sense of FOMO, which help explain why the film had such a high Sunday haul. The onslaught of social media and other online chatter about Endgame beginning on Thursday had people rushing to the cineplex later in the weekend. And as word gets out about Endgame‘s strong female performances, a larger segment of women may show up as well.
For all of these reasons, although Endgame‘s second weekend grosses will drop, Dergarabedian says the film could still pull in $150 million.
But will it go on to blow past Avatar? Dergarabedian wagers that Endgame will comfortably hit $2 billion, but beyond that remains to be seen. “We’ll have to wait and see,” he says. “If any film can do it, it’s this one.”