Why the $10-Billion Marvel Cinematic Universe Can’t Be Killed
'Captain America: Civil War' pushed the MCU past $10 billion, leaving 'Star Wars' and 'Harry Potter' in the dust.
With Captain America: Civil War’s gigantic first two weeks at the box office, Marvel reached a huge milestone over the weekend: Through 13 official Marvel Cinematic Universe films (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, and Captain America: Civil War to be exact) spanning just nine years, the MCU has become the most lucrative franchise in film history, with over $10 billion in worldwide box office receipts and counting.
It’s as impressive as a band of superheroes joining up to fight evil. But the achievement is even more impressive when you think about the historic competition the MCU has breezed by to make it to the top. We’re talking about some of the most beloved franchises in film history whose classic films have spanned generations and made an impressive box office haul in their own right.
Let’s take a look at some of the biggest franchises and see if they can match the mighty MCU.
- Years Active: 39+.
- Number of Movies: 12+
- Total Worldwide Grosses: $6.7 billion
The seemingly most adored other cinematic franchise is undoubtedly Star Wars, which seemed all but dead after George Lucas capped off his prequel trilogy in 2005 but had the multigenerational nostalgia to make it viable again. But as they’ve proven with Marvel, Disney knows how to make as much money as possible, and they put up the $4 billion in 2012 as a wise investment. Star Wars is a multimedia marketing behemoth, which brings in a whole mess of other moneymaking factors, but estimated numbers crunched by Wired just before the movie opened said Disney would make back half their multi-billion dollar investment on the first movie alone.
There will be a Star Wars movie a year for the foreseeable future, which is one less than the two-to-three planned Marvel movies per year through 2019. But there will be more mid-level Marvel films akin to Ant-Man like Doctor Strange and Thor: Ragnarok rather than the massive Star Wars home runs each time. This race could eventually become neck and neck should the quality of Marvel movies take a dive.
- Years Active: 10
- Number of Movies: 8+
- Total Worldwide Grosses: $7.7 billion
It as just four brief years ago that the Harry Potter movies laid claim to being the highest grossing franchise ever. But records were made to be broken, and the MCU has its work cut out for it as the Potter-verse gets kickstarted again with this year’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It seems the Potter movies tried every possible in-and-out of a popular film series like hiring a bona fide auteur, to adhering to the source material, to not adhering to the source material, to splitting up the final chapters into two movies to maximize profitability. Potter fans love their big-screen adaptations, and like Star Wars it now has the multigenerational aspect to it. Kids grow up on these things, introduce it to kids of their own, rinse, and repeat.
- Years Active: 54+
- Number of Movies: 24+
- Total Worldwide Grosses: $5 billion
Perhaps the most classic example of the long-running lucrative film franchise, the James Bond movies are kind of like that guy that keeps repeating high school for a few years. Bond is ingenious because it is a self perpetuating thing that will eventually outlive everyone involved, which is a method that a lot of the younger franchises like Star Wars and Marvel are still trying to figure out. While Captain America can become too old, James Bond is timeless.
- Years Active: 16+
- Number of Movies: 8+
- Total Worldwide Grosses: $3.8 billion
Poor X-Men. Poor 20th Century Fox. The ostensibly defined the modern comic book blockbuster by kicking off the entire trend with the first X-Men movie in 2000 and have watched as other studios and properties have eclipsed them. Granted, they haven’t been able to mold these movies into a cohesive unit regardless of how many times Hugh Jackmans Wolverine shows up or however much they go back in time to mess with the continuity. The X-Men movies have become the big-screen equivalent of the comic source material: too obscure, lofty, inconsequential, and tedious to take seriously.
- Years Active: 27
- Number of Movies: 9+
- Total Worldwide Grosses: $4.5 billion
Whereas X-Men seems to get more and more tired with each passing film, Warner Bros’ Batman movies have taken the Bond route and changed over time. There’s something for everybody whether you want throwback kitsch from Tim Burton, serious-minded action from Christopher Nolan, or trash (from every other director). Like the best mythology, there’s something worthy in the way the caped crusader has the ability to change and be reinterpreted with each installment. Sometimes it works — like Nolan’s films — and sometimes it doesn’t — like Batman v Superman — but there’s always room to do it again and make more money. We’ll have to see what the Justice League movies and Ben Affleck’s own Batman movies do in terms of box office, but the number will only go up from here.
The Lord of the Rings
- Years Active: 15
- Number of Movies: 6
- Total Worldwide Grosses: $5.8 billion
The Lord of the Rings movies were a fascinating test of mixing an academic sensibility with a blockbuster point of view. The Hobbit movies were a disappointing test of the worst tendencies of blockbusters trying to adapt beloved source material. Either way, all six of Peter Jackson’s movies made money and gained a ton of awards, and are largely still loved today. Author J.R.R. Tolkien’s vast invented mythology is bursting with tangential stories to adapt to the big-screen, so you know someone somewhere in a Hollywood board room is trying to figure out the best way to maintain the Tolkien cinematic universe, so expect the box office to increase whenever the executives figure out how to get the Tolkien-verse back on-screen.