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Box Office: How Theater Owner Re-Negotiations Granted Age of Ultron Something the First Avengers Never Had

Posted on the 12 May 2015 by Weminoredinfilm.com @WeMinoredInFilm

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A big movie isn’t doing quite as well as expected domestically but is completely killing it overseas. For the past couple of years, that’s been the m.o. for so many films, be they mid-budget like Need for Speed, RoboCop, or Escape Plan or big-budget like Star Trek Into Darkness, The Wolverine and Transformers: Age of Extinction. This is not always a good thing, for complicated reasons related to the ways profits are split with theaters, plunging local currencies, and the ever-rising cost of international marketing. However, it definitely points the studios in the direction of the real growth markets.

Prior to this point, this is not something Marvel Studios has really had to worry about. All of their sequels have outgrossed their predecessors, domestically and internationally, with Iron Man and Captain America emerging as their most bankable solo stars. Their weakest link, Thor, is still heading in the right direction since although Thor: The Dark World’s domestic take ($206m) wasn’t exactly a monumental leap past the first Thor ($181m) it was a completely different story overseas ($438m for Dark World vs. $268m for Thor). The only real question for Marvel is whether or not they can continue their run of unprecedented financial growth, especially after they defied the odds and turned Guardians of the Galaxy into one of 2014’s most pleasant surprises, catapulting Chris Pratt into a semi-annoying status of perpetually being linked to every big new movie.

2015 was already shaping up to be the test of Marvel’s Pixar-esque run of sustained excellence. All of their box office totals keep pointing northward, but will anything they make ever really manage to top the first Avengers? Did that all-star team-up which ultimately became the highest-grossing film of all time not to be directed by James Cameron (his Titanic and Avatar still hold the top 2 spots) establish Marvel’s box office ceiling? In July, can they turn the publicly and embarrassingly troubled Ant-Man into a Guardians of the Galaxy-esque display of their unfailing midas touch?

Obviously, Ant-Man will have to wait because the film of the moment is Avengers: Age of Ultron, and right now it looks like most everything Age of Ultron will do at the box office will be in second position to the first Avengers. For example, Age of Ultron already has the second biggest opening weekend of all time ($191.2 million), and now it has the second biggest second weekend ($77.7m) of all time. It’s essentially tied with The Dark Knight for second highest 10-day gross and second fasted to eclipse $300 million domestic. Of course, the reigning record holder in all of those categories is The Avengers.

It seems inherently silly to lament these Age of Ultron numbers or regard the film as some kind of box office disappointment. We are unaccustomed to discussing a Marvel Studios sequel which is not quite living up to its predecessor, but almost every other film ever made would be unaccustomed to making nearly $200m in its first 3 days and over $300m in its first 10. Plus, Age of Ultron is placing well ahead of the first Avengers overseas, despite not opening in Japan until July. As of this writing, it is not even through its first full day in China, yet it’s already looking at a worldwide total just a tad south of $900m.

Beyond the international market, there is one peculiar area in which Age of Ultron has the leg up on Avengers: profit splits. According to THR, just before Iron Man 3 opened in 2013 Disney renegotiated its terms with North American theater owners, which typically split ticket sales 50/50 with the studios. Disney negotiated that up to a 60/40 split for all of its big tentpoles, Age of Ultron included.   So, technically speaking, Disney is seeing a higher percentage of the ticket sales from Ultron than it did with the first Avengers. Well, actually, that’s where it gets complicated since Avengers and Iron Man 3 were actually the final two movies in Marvel’s distribution deal with Paramount Pictures which pre-dated Disney’s 2009 purchase of the then-independent Marvel Studios. So, Disney had to actually share Avengers with someone else while Age of Ultron is the first Avengers movie which is entirely its own. Incidentally, Disney is trying to exert more favorable terms upon international theater owners as well, making them essentially pay more (by taking a smaller cut of the ticket sales) for the right to exhibit big movies like Age of Ultron and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. That’s what all of those recent headlines about Germany boycotting Age of Ultron were about – independent theater owners over there think Disney is asking for too much.

This Weekend’s Actual Box Office Top 10 Totals (5/8-5/10)

1. Avengers: Age of Ultron

  • Production Budget=$250m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$77.7m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$68.3m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$313.4m/$562.4m/$875.8m

Age of Ultron has now bested the worldwide hauls of every Marvel Studios release other than Iron Man 3 ($1.2b) and Avengers ($1.5b).  It did drop 59% at the domestic box office this weekend, which might look bad since the first Avengers only dropped 50% in its second weekend. Then again, Iron Man 3 also dropped 59% in its second weekend, and that clearly worked out okay.

2. Hot Pursuit (Debut)

  • Production Budget=$35m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$13.9m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$1.4m
  • Worldwide Debut=$15.3m

The only film that dared to take on second weekend of the Avengers in 2012 was Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s Dark Shadows, which actually made nearly $30m in its opening before getting a tad lost in the shuffle and finishing with less than $80m. So, it was not a bad idea to release Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara’s version of The Heat as female-leaning counter-programming to Age of Ultron. It just so happens that the word of mouth has been toxic, with the worst reviews of Witherspoon’s career and a clear thumbs-down from opening night audiences who graded it a C+ on CinemaScore

3. Age of Adaline

  • Production Budget=$30m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$5.8m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$2.6m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$31.7m/$7.5m/$39.2m

4. Furious 7

  • Production Budget=$190m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$5.4m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$19.6m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$338.5m/$1.12b/$1.46b

Furious 7 remains the 4th highest-grossing film of all time.

5. Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2

  • Production Budget=$30m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$5.3m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$3m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$58.1m/$28.9m/$87m

6. Ex Machina

  • Production Budget=$1m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$3.5m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=?
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$15.7m/$8.7m/$24.4m

Distributor A24 added over 750 new theaters this weekend, bringing Ex Machina up to over 2000. This boosted the film’s weekend business nearly 54%.

7. Home

  • Production Budget=$135m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$3m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$6m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$162.1m/$180m/$342.1m

8. Woman in Gold

  • Production Budget=$2m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$1.7m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=?
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$27m/$6.5m/$33.6m

9. Cinderella

  • Production Budget=$95m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$1.6m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$4m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$196.2m/$316.9m/$513.1m

After leapfrogging back into the top 10 last weekend, Cinderella now has an outside shot at reaching $200m domestic which would impact how much Disney might charge for TV rights down the road, or it will just sound more impressive to say $200m instead of $196m.

10. Unfriended

  • Production Budget=$1m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$1.4m
  • Weekend Gross (International)= $3.2m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$30.9m/$9m/$39.9m

What Left the Top 10?: The Longest Ride (Current total: $35.2m domestic/$34m budget)

What’s Up Next?: Mad Max: Fury Road (which, surprise, surprise, is apparently amazing) and Pitch Perfect 2

Sources: BoxOfficeMojo

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