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It’s a familiar refrain, ‘X superhero movie made X amount of dollars in a huge opening weekend.’ We are over a decade, arguably almost two, into the comic book movie boom and it is common knowledge that superhero movies make a lot of money, those from the Marvel Cinematic Universe especially so. Yet the predictable nature of these successes does not make them any less impressive, and sometimes a movie surprises us, surpassing even the loftiest of expectations and thus warranting further examination.
This is not to say that Captain Marvel will reach the heights of those aforementioned films, it’s far too early to tell, but it is off to an incredible start. Captain Marvel obliterated the most optimistic forecasts, rocketing to $153 million domestically in its opening weekend. Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) was an international hit as well. The movie earned $302 million overseas for a worldwide opening weekend of $455 million according to Deadline.
Those numbers are good enough for the 6th highest global debut of all time, the biggest March opening ever and the 2nd biggest worldwide opening for the MCU and superhero movies overall. So how did Captain Marvel go higher, further and faster than so many films before it to crush at the box office? Here are some ideas.
Avengers: Infinity War’s End-Credits Scene
Captain Marvel has not historically been an A-list character, and anecdotally, I don’t think she enjoyed the same cultural cachet or name recognition prior to her MCU debut of any of her forbearers save the Guardians of the Galaxy. So what did Marvel do? It gave her the ball in the red zone, a running start, a softball to knock out of the park via the end-credits scene of Avengers: Infinity War.
Captain Marvel really couldn’t have been teed up better than it was thanks to that end-credits scene, which came on the heels of the most jaw-dropping, cliffhanger-y ending to the biggest superhero movie ever. Thanos had snapped his fingers and the Decimation scattered half our heroes to the winds, we were looking for answers and most importantly, hope.
That hope came when Nick Fury, in his dying act, when the hour was most late, called out for help using a strange pager that showed a symbol unfamiliar to many. That symbol was Captain Marvel’s and whether the majority of audiences knew that or not at the time, they probably found out and only became more curious to see the debut of the hero that could be the key to defeating Thanos.
That made Captain Marvel necessary viewing for Avengers: Endgame (although maybe audiences should have paid more attention to Ant-Man and the Wasp). It’s kind of remarkable that the Captain Marvel trailers and marketing didn’t lean into this by beginning with Nick Fury’s page, but it is clear that it didn’t matter.
Captain Marvel Is A New Hero
The MCU has grown by leaps and bounds since it began in 2008 but it still largely revolves around the same core group of characters. And while we love Black Widow, Thor, Captain America, Iron Man and the rest, it is always exciting when a new hero gets introduced. It’s like unlocking a new character in a fighting game, we’re eager to see who they are and what they can do.
The introduction of new characters acts like a soft reset for the universe, like a new coat of paint or a software update, opening up new storytelling possibilities and different permutations for how they will interact with existing pieces. When that character is a new female hero leading her own movie, displaying powers we haven’t seen before, it feels fresh and different and that’s exciting for audiences.
Moreover, there is a reason that superhero movies go back to the well of origin stories so often, and that’s because they work and audiences love them. The last time we got a big new hero being introduced with their own solo movie in the MCU was last year’s Black Panther and before that in 2017 with Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Both of those characters were introduced first in Captain America: Civil War and their successes and the opening weekend of Captain Marvel shows that audiences are ready to meet new characters and see this universe expand. And that’s a good sign with many established characters likely leaving the universe as we head into Phase 4 and new ones take up their mantles.
The Release Date
As is the case with most MCU movies, Captain Marvel entered the weekend unopposed by any other major studio releases, so competition was null. More than that though, Captain Marvel came into the marketplace at a time when audiences were thirsting for a new blockbuster. The first two months of the year have not exactly been full of movies that have forced audiences to brave the winter cold.
Despite wonderful family friendly animated fare like The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part and How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World hitting theaters, they don’t really motivate mass audiences to go to the theater the way a live-action, PG-13 tentpole does. The only real movie that could qualify as a blockbuster in the same vein as the MCU flick is Alita: Battle Angel, which sadly didn’t have the power of the Marvel brand behind and was somewhat ignored by domestic audiences, despite being, I would argue, a better movie.
So audiences were ready and waiting for something like Captain Marvel to hit theaters and specifically they were waiting for an MCU film. In a lesson Star Wars could learn from, Captain Marvel arrived 3 months since the last big superhero film Aquaman; 8 months since the last MCU film Ant-Man and the Wasp and nearly a year since Avengers: Infinity War.
That build up since our last visit to the MCU meant that the public was eager to return and Captain Marvel arrived just in time to get us ready for Avengers: Endgame. Arriving on International Women’s Day was also a nice touch.
The Marvel Brand
Success breeds success and there is no more successful brand at the multiplex right now than Marvel Studios. Marvel movies crush at the box office both domestically and overseas and thanks to Captain Marvel’s performance, the Marvel Cinematic Universe will soon cross $18 billion at the box office over 21 films.
This level of unprecedented success isn’t just a result of the quality or entertainment value of the individual films themselves, it is the achievement of the Marvel brand. The MCU is more than the sum of its parts and audiences turn up on opening weekend because it is a Marvel movie. The Marvel name is a trusted one among general audiences, a guarantee of quality and entertainment regardless of what hero gets top billing.
That’s why nothing is really a gamble for Marvel anymore. The days when it was feared that Guardians of the Galaxy might be too obscure and weird to succeed are long gone. Marvel can take perceived risks with its films, like its first female-led superhero film with a lesser-known character because it’s not really a risk with the Marvel name attached.
That Marvel name also lets audiences know that this is the next chapter in the cinematic television series that is the MCU. Skipping out on Captain Marvel would be like missing an episode in a serialized television show. You have to see it because you want to be part of the conversation and see how this impacts things moving forward.
Captain Marvel Offered Something Different
The last reason I think Captain Marvel is crushing at the box office is because of all the things that it brings to the table that seem to set it apart from what’s come before. Captain Marvel herself is a new hero and this is Marvel’s first female-led superhero movie and that’s exciting but this film also offered us smaller things that may have appealed and enticed audiences to come to the theater.
For one the Skrulls and their shape-shifting ability offered a new type of villain in these movies and something that looked like it could be a lot of fun, as the battle with granny Skrull on the train in the trailers showed.There is also the fact that this is Marvel’s first film set in this time period. Many of the people who went to see this film may have lived through or grown up in the 1990s and have some affinity and nostalgic sentiment towards that decade.
Lastly, this film featured some strong supporting players. Audiences have been following Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury since 2008 and we all wanted to see him be in a buddy cop movie with Carol Danvers and find out how he lost his eye. Plus Goose, I mean come on; featuring the cat in the marketing was a smart play.
These elements may be superficial and ultimately Captain Marvel feels like fairly standard superhero origin story stuff, but it doesn’t matter because it looked different and interesting enough for people to show up and help it crush at the box office.
Whatever the reason for its success, Captain Marvel's debut has gotten the MCU's year off to a great start ahead of the all-important Avengers: Endgame next month and it is a positive sign that Carol Danvers can be one of the faces of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the years to come.