Sunday 6 May 2012

U.S Box Office Report - 4th - 6th May 2012

1. The Avengers - $200.3M - $200.3M
2. Think Like a Man - $8M - $73M
3. The Hunger Games - $5.7M - $380M
4. The Lucky One - $5.5M - $47.9M
5. The Pirates! Band of Misfits - $5.4M - $18.5M
6. The Five-Year Engagement - $5M - $19.1M
7. The Raven - $2.5M - $12M
8. Safe - $2.4M - $12.8M
9. Chimpanzee - $2.3M - $23M
10. The Three Stooges - $1.8M - $39.6M

Please Note: This report contains a brief history of The Avengers, along with details of the previous Marvel films set within the same universe. There are also end credit spoilers for The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Thor and both Iron Man films. Should you wish to skip the extensive report and spoilers, please scroll down to the section separated with ----------. Thank you.

After months of waiting, summer blockbuster season is finally here, and it comes complete with what is sure to be one of the biggest films of 2012 - The Avengers. From now until well in August, there'll be at least one major potential blockbuster every weekend - sometimes even two or three. The box office is more than ready for the big films too, according to sources, Thursday was the first day this year in which no single film made over $1M. The first week in May is often seen as one of the strongest release dates of the season, giving a film little competition in general - at least for seven days. Elsewhere, The Five Year Engagement will try and recover from a poor first frame and The Pirates! will be hoping that the family market give it another shot.

The origins of The Avengers begin way back in 1963, when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created a superhero group, influenced at the time by the success of DC Comic's Justice League of America. Designed to be earth's mightiest hero team, the near constantly changing line up of the Avengers originally consisted of Ant-Man, Wasp, Thor, Iron Man and the Hulk. One thing that has remained constant however, is the reason for their existence - "to take on the foes no single superhero can withstand". Over the years the story lines have seen the team take on Marvel's most infamous villains, with some enemies switching sides, possessing or even impersonating existing members in hope of destroying the team from within. As mentioned, the line up consisted of five characters, but was altered as early as the second issue, when The Hulk departed due to fears over his unstable personality. While attempting to convince him otherwise, the remaining members discover Captain America, still encased in ice. Once revived, he is elected leader. The 60s would prove turbulent for The Avengers, with all but the Captain resigning at one point, to be replaced by, amongst others, former villains (which included Hawkeye).

Into the new decade, the story lines became increasingly epic in scale, including a cross over to another dimension to take part in the Kree-Skrull war. Further additions were made to the ever growing ranks, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Mantis and a reformed villain in the guise of The Swordsman, not to mention a cross over from the X-Men universe with Beast. Perhaps moving with the times, or a device to limit the number of characters, by the end of the 70s, The Avengers had to comply with an affirmative action law which saw their numbers limited to seven, and taking in the first African American member, Falcon. (The character would quickly resign due to resenting the token gesture, to be replaced not by the ousted Hawkeye but Wonder Man).

The 1980s would see writer Roger Stern introduce more dilemmas for the team, sometimes from within their own ranks. Further Stern story lines would see Hawkeye form the West Coast Avengers, the existing team going on trial in Olympus over an injury sustained by (now member) Hercules and the hijacking of their New York base by Baron Zemo in 'Avengers Under Siege'. When John Byrne took over writing duties his first task was to merge the two teams together, giving the world one Avengers group, with an east and west coast base. They then took part in the multi-title crossover story, Act of Vengeance, which would seem them battling Loki and a host of recently escaped villains (Major Marvel characters such as Kingpin, Red Baron, Magneto, Doctor Doom and Mandarin.) The title took in not only the Avengers comic but crossed into the individual publications of Iron Man, Thor, Fantastic Four, The Amazing Spider Man and the Uncanny X-Men. When Bob Harras and Steve Epting picked up the mantle in the 90s, they attempted to further stabilise the character line up. Plot lines at this time would see the Avengers questioning their 'no kill' policy, coming to a head in the 19 part Operation: Galactic Storm, in which the team split up and Iron Man, with others, goes on to kill the character Supreme Intelligence - against Captain America's wishes. The storyline would eventually resolve to reveal that once again, a member of the Avengers was being manipulated by an enemy.

A further tale at this time saw many of the characters (including The Fantastic Four, The Avengers and Doctor Doom) seemingly killed off by Onslaught, with it later revealed that the Fantastic Four supporting character of Franklin Richards managed to transport them all to a pocket universe (which itself would become a side story, Heroes Reborn, when Marvel contracted out The Avengers and related characters to Image Comics). A new volume was launched in February 1998 by Kurt Busiek, who would also pen Avengers Forever, a time-travel tale which answered a number of long standing questions. The new millennium would become the darkest time for the comic book heroes, beginning with Avengers Disassembled, in which a number of major characters are killed off with the remaining members finding themselves discredited, agreeing to finally disband. Later, The New Avengers would form after the events in the cross over comic, House of M, consisting at this time of Captain America, Wolverine, Iron Man, Spider Man and Luke Cage, to name but a few. In another multi-title crossover, 'Marvel Civil War', the superheroes are split over the Superhuman Registration Act, resulting in the New Avengers disbanding, with Luke Cage forming an underground team. To make things further complex, there now existed two Avengers teams - one known as 'New' Avengers, the other The New Avengers. Ultimately, 'New' Avengers would be recognised as an independent team away from the more traditional Avengers (this would take place during what is known as the 'Heroic Age'). More tales followed, which would see the teams further splintered, with the formation of the Mighty Avengers (Iron Man reforming the team under a government scheme) and the Dark Avengers, which would see Norman Osborn take a former Avengers team under his own H.A.M.M.E.R agency.

By 2010, with four separate Avengers comics in circulation, the decision was made to cancel all current publications and start afresh, so to speak, with a brand new Avengers volume launching in May of that year. The team line up consisted of Thor, Hawkeye, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Captain America, Spider-Woman, Iron Man, and team leader Maria Hill, and would hark back to the simpler, lighter story lines, as opposed to the grimness of the Marvel Civil War and other such events, including the apparent and much publicised death of Captain America. According to Marvel's editor in chief - 'Heroes will be heroes again'. A number of side projects have also been released, including Secret Avengers and Avengers Academy, along with a further volume of the heroic age Avengers. With such a huge history, of which this report has barely scratched the surface, it would be near impossible for any writer to attempt to bring an Avengers film to the big screen. However, due to the rights for different characters being spread across several studios, a large number of heroes were off limits (Specifically, but not limited to, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men and Spider Man). Furthermore, Marvel would need to establish (or re-establish) some of their Avenger heroes with the general public if a film featuring a number of them was to succeed outside of the fan base.

While there has been talk for a number of years of an Avengers live action film, it wasn't until 2005 that the reality took a step closer to being. Marvel CEO Avi Arad announced that The Avengers would be part of an upcoming slate that the company would produce themselves, thanks to a deal brokered with investment bank Merrill Lynch. Paramount Pictures would act as distributor. A year on and the deal was confirmed in a discussion with Wall St analysts, the plan being to release a number of films featuring some of the individual heroes, building up to the combining of said characters, who would now hopefully be familiar to the public. The first two films were released in 2008, Iron Man in May, The Incredible Hulk in June, and after the success of the former, Marvel announced an Avengers flick would be released in June 2011, though work had already begun on the script, with scribe Zak Penn moving onto the project after finishing up the Hulk screenplay sometime in 2007. With writing commencing, Marvel set about laying some ground work, inserting references to the Avengers and its members in both of their 2008 films. First by introducing commander of S.H.I.E.L.D, Nick Fury (played by Samuel L Jackson, who signed on to reprise the character on nine further Marvel universe pictures) in an Iron Man post credit sequence, discussing the Avenger Initiative with Tony Stark. Also appearing would be Agent Coulson, played by Clark Gregg. The character wasn't a Marvel creation but became a way of tying numerous characters/movies together, and would feature in digi-comics and two short films. He would also go on to make the jump from the film universe into the comic series.

The Incredible Hulk's Avengers reference once again took the form of a post-credit sequence, this time with Stark talking to General Ross about "a team being formed". A sequel to Iron Man was quickly put into production, with director Jon Favreau initially reluctant to return after Marvel announced a release date that he felt would require the film to be compromised. Indeed, there were numerous pre and post-production stories, detailing Marvel's demands on Favreau and the direction Iron Man 2 should take. For this sequel further in-roads were made towards The Avengers, with the introduction of Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson (whose deal included portraying the character in The Avengers) and a further extended cameo for Jackson's Nick Fury and Agent Coulson, who appears not only in the main body of the picture but also in the post-credit sequence, in which he is discussing the discovery of a 'large hammer' in New Mexico. This would lead on to Marvel's next entry - Thor. Chris Hemsworth would portray the Norse god and again, the film would further set things up for The Avengers, but in a much more direct way this time - its post credit sequence acting almost as a prequel to events that would have a major bearing for the upcoming super hero match-up. Also making his series debut in Thor would be Hawkeye, featuring in a short mid-film sequence. Finally, Marvel played their final pre-Avengers card in the guise of Captain America, portrayed in the film by Chris Evans (also signing a multi-picture deal) and released July 2011. Along with Thor, Captain America was one of the harder sells to the public but was essential in order to further add credibility to the character's role in The Avengers. The company went as far as releasing the film as Captain America: The First Avenger. Once more, Nick Fury would appear in a post-credit sequence proposing a mission to Captain America that would have global ramifications. With characters now firmly established (All the Marvel releases were incredibly successful, domestically and overseas) they could move forward with The Avengers movie.

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Prior to the release of Iron Man 2, Marvel announced that The Avengers film would now be released in summer 2012. While initially interested in directing, Jon Favreau felt there wasn't enough time between finishing the Iron Man sequel and starting work on this flick (his dealings with Marvel may also have had some bearing on his decision). Robert Downey Jnr and Don Cheadle were amongst the first to be announced for The Avengers, with Jackson and Johansson already signed on to reprise their respective roles. (Cheadle would state in January 2011 that he would not be part of this picture, but would return for 2013's Iron Man 3). Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston (Thor's villain, Loki) were confirmed for the project, as was Chris Evans' Captain America in March 2010. Hawkeye too, would join the team, to be played once again by Jeremy Renner (the actor was one of the last to be cast, not joining the project until June 2010). With a release date, a budget (rumoured at the time to be between $200-250M) and a cast, all the film needed was a director. A month after Evans had signed onto the project, rumours began to circulate that fan-favourite Joss Whedon was in talks to helm the picture. These whispers were shot down quickly as being a fan boy pipe dream. Whedon seemed perfect for the role, being a fan of the series (and the comic universe in general). However, he was also inexperienced with such huge budgets and large casts, having previously worked mainly in TV, with only one feature directing credit on his big screen version of Firefly, Serenity. At the Wizards World Convention of 2010, Stan Lee and Avi Arad confirmed there had been talks with Whedon, but it was still something of a surprise when he was officially unveiled as director at the San Diego Comic Con later that year. Marvel also stated that Ed Norton would not be returning as Bruce Banner. After initially expressing an interest in The Avengers, Norton found himself excused from the role by a weary Marvel, who had clashed with the actor during filming and post production on The Incredible Hulk. Instead it was announced that Mark Ruffalo would join The Avengers in the Banner role. One final role was to be cast, that of Maria Hill, another S.H.I.E.L.D agent who works alongside Nick Fury. This ultimately went to Cobie Smulders, known primarily for her work on TV sitcom How I Met Your Mother (and also someone Whedon had considered for an aborted Wonder Woman TV project). The director mentioned he would write an outline for the picture, based on Avenger's history but also incorporating elements of The Ultimates, a comic book series that had debuted in 2002 (indeed, despite The Avenger's current comic book line up, the team in The Ultimates is actually closer to that which appears in the film).

Shooting commenced April 25th 2011 in New Mexico, and would take in New York and Cleveland during its production. Second unit filming took place in Pittsburgh, with the shoot generally going without a hitch. The original plan to film in 3D was abandoned at some point, with Disney announcing in December that the picture would be converted to 3D during post production. A teaser of sorts appeared at the 2010 Comic-Con, but the studio opted to skip San Diego's Con a year later, stating that they did not want to show footage while the film was still shooting. Instead, the first actual film footage debuted during the Disney D23 Expo in August 2011. (Due to an existing distribution contract, Paramount's logo would appear in the marketing of the film, despite Marvel now being a Disney owned subsidiary). Further footage appeared in October, at the New York Comic-Con. The first full trailer hit later that same month, and set records for the number of views within a 24 hours period. (The record would be smashed soon after by The Dark Knight Rises, which itself would be surpassed when Marvel issued the second full length trailer for The Avengers). The studio also spent an estimated $4M on a 30 second Super Bowl spot. A U.S Release date of May 4th was set, with the picture making its international bow on April 25th. The idea being to have the picture on 39 foreign markets prior to it U.S debut to build up momentum.

The drama started before the film was anywhere near North American theatres. Reviews for The Avengers have been exceptionally strong, with 92% of critics giving it a positive notice (one of the few negative reviews, by A.O Scott of the New York Times, caused Samuel L Jackson to ask the public, via Twitter, to find the reviewer a job he could actually do), with an even higher approval rating from the general public. No other film studio dared open a major release up against it, and many analysts expected the film to shatter numerous records over its first three days. Further evidence of this came when online ticket vendor Movietickets.com stated that advanced tickets sales for The Avengers were stronger than the combined advanced purchases for both Iron Man films, Thor and Captain America. As the release edged ever closer, more and more showings were reported as being completely sold out - and by Thursday, that figure was beyond a 1,000. Online vendor Fandango also reported Thursday that the film accounted for 95% of all tickets sold that day. The studio opted to open the picture wide, at 4,349, a fraction behind the widest ever opening release, Twilight: Eclipse, which bowed at 4,468 locations. With the 3D surcharge coming into play, and many midnight screenings only available in the higher priced format, we were set for a record breaking weekend.

Things kicked off well, with The Avengers' midnight sneaks making $18.7M from around 2,500 locations, and while not as strong as Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2, that number is the best midnight figure for a superhero movie, besting The Dark Knight by $200K. (The Marvel flick is actually the eighth biggest midnight opener, and would have easily been higher had it been out to more locations). Its first full Friday on general release (and at its full location count) saw the picture make a staggering $80M (inc. midnight money), the second best opening day in history (and more than John Carter made in its entire theatrical runs in North America). Interestingly, if you take out the midnight sneak figures, the picture made $61M, giving it a better 'actual Friday' than films higher up on the best single day take list. That start put the film firmly within shot of the weekend record - it was certainly in play - over the next two days The Avengers would need to make around $90M to surpass Deathly Hallow 2's $169M opening frame. The great reviews, combined with the white hot word of mouth (not to mention the very rare A+ Cinemascore) helped the film to a record breaking Saturday figure too, shattering Spider-Man 3's $51M figure (which had stood for five years). After that, the weekend record was set to topple - but by how much? At least two major analysts (Box Office Guru and Prophets) were predicting up $180M based on those Friday figures (Box Office Mojo even reckoned a potential $200M total was within reach).

By Sunday night, The Avengers was the new box office champion, making an astounding $200.3M over the past three days to have the biggest opening in film history - with all the other records that go with it. It not only blows away the previous record set by Harry Potter's final film but proves the picture crossed all manner of demographics. It also added the biggest Sunday figure to its slew of records by making $50.1M - besting the $43.5M made by The Dark Knight. In comparison to other Marvel flicks - it has made more this frame than The Incredible Hulk, Thor or Captain America made in their entire North American box office runs.Given its start, its genre and 3D ticket costs, the film's performance is off the scale and it's given The Dark Knight Rises some serious work to do in July. With a $220M budget attached, the picture will have recouped production costs by next weekend, but probably well before that. Even with the almost certain high second frame fall, Marvel's plan, which began in 2005, came together beautifully. And that was just in North America.

Abroad the numbers continued to astound. Incredibly, due to the film's huge roll out of overseas, it had cleared $300M before its second weekend had even started - and that excluded the ever growing markets of China and Russia, where the picture opened this frame. It claimed the number one position in every country in which it opened (starting April 25th, in nine countries, expanding to 39 in the following days), and by the close of play last Sunday it had made $185M. It set a number of foreign debut records across the globe. By its second Thursday, The Avengers had crossed $300M, with some estimating it would clear $450M by the end of the frame. Due to its staggered release, global records were harder to crack - the opening weekend record on the international market still stands with Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Pt.2, but there's no denying the flick had got off to a staggeringly good start. For its second frame, with more markets added, The Avengers increased its international total to $441M, which gives it a worldwide total of $641M when its U.S take is factored in. Box office history has well and truly been made this weekend.

Despite what it may seem, there were other movies available to the general public this weekend but with that huge opening for The Avengers, it was clear that films that barely shared a demographic with the superhero flick would still end up affected by it. Prior to that, weekday takes for all the of the top ten were low, but it did allow a shuffling of some titles - the family film The Pirates! tumbling a few places, while the disappointing Five Year Engagement managed to move up towards second position.

Last frame's winner, Think Like A Man had a $2.6M Friday, down 55% on the same time last week. The $12M budgeted urban comedy managed to cross the $70M mark by the end of the weekend and is proving to be another wise investment by Screen Gems, who have seen similar success with films such as Dear John and The Vow ($80M finish, $124M running total, respectively). While $100M appears out of reach, there's a slim chance it will best Tyler Perry's Madea Goes To Jail, which finished up with a $90M total back in 2009. The only minor sticking point is the overseas market, where such a film rarely plays as strongly as it does domestically - indeed, Tyler Perry's pictures barely have a global presence, with the majority not even seeing a release outside of North America. The film won't face further direct competition until The Dictator on May 16th, and could remain in the top ten for another four weeks due to the limited number of upcoming releases.

After an incredible run, which has seen some record breaking of its own, The Hunger Games looked to have finally met its match this frame. It was always expected that Marvel's blockbuster would kneecap the film, but the actual damage was minimal - more so when you consider this is The Hunger Games' seventh weekend on general release. In fact, it's fifth weekend total of $14.6M was the ninth best in box office history.Made for $78M (after tax breaks), the picture added $5.7M this frame, for a total of $380M. $400M is still well within reach, even with the existing and upcoming competition.

The Nicholas Spark's adaptation, The Lucky One, hit $40M on Tuesday. Starring Zac Efron as an Iraq war veteran, the story saw him seeking out a woman whose photo saved his life while on his third and final tour. The film opened three weeks ago to $22M, with a 52% dip last weekend. This frame, as alternate programming to The Avengers, the picture made $1.9M Friday, for a three day total of $5.5M. The Lucky One now has a 17 day total of $47M, and should finish up with around $60M by the end of its theatrical run.

Despite being the only real family-friendly film in the top ten, The Pirates! Band of Misfits barely made an impact last frame, even with a huge Saturday boost and a second place finish for the weekend. The Aardman Animations production struggled further during the week, sinking to eighth place on Thursday. This weekend, with a dip of 52%% on last frame, The Pirates! could only limp to $5.4M. By it second Sunday, Aardman's previous release, Arthur Christmas, was up to $25M and would take just $46M before leaving theatres - a figure that The Pirates! is unlikely to see even two thirds of. Thankfully its performance overseas is much strong, helping it to already recoup its $55M production budget.

There were few ways to dress up The Five Year Engagement's performance last frame. Having expected to comfortably take the top spot, the Emily Blunt/Jason Segel comedy had to settle for a humiliating fourth place finish (it actually dropped to fifth on its first Saturday). During the week, things picked up slightly, with the picture managing to move up to second place by Tuesday, but even that day's take was barely over a million dollars, though this itself was an improvement over the awful $833K Monday figure. A week on and the film saw just $1.7M on its second Friday, leading to another poor weekend total of $5M. There's now a real chance that Nick Stoller's third film will finish up below $30M domestically (which is incidentally what The Five Year Engagement cost to produce). It's hard to know where things went wrong, other than to say that Think Like A Man was the public's comedy of choice and that the good word of mouth on that flick crossed over into other demographics. Next for Segel is a role in Judd Apatow's Knocked Up spin off, This is Forty, while Blunt will appear in the June release, Your Sister's Sister and Rian Johnson's Looper, in September.

After lacklustre opening weekends of $7.8M and $7.2M, Safe and The Raven took a kicking from The Avengers, their demographics being almost identical. A week on sees the two swap position, with Safe managing the weaker finish. The Jason Statham action flick dipped 69% on a Friday to Friday basis (69% overall), adding only $2.4M to its total, for a $12.8M ten day finish. It's almost a certainty that the picture won't surpass the disappointing $25M finish of Killer Elite. The Raven faired only slightly better, making only $844K on Friday, for a weekend finish of $2.5M ($12M overall since release). Of the two films, The Raven is the cheaper, with costs running to $26M (as opposed to Safe's $30M budget) but neither will end up losing money in the long run. Better release dates may have benefited both films, and they'll last one, perhaps two more weekends in the top ten.

Next up is the Earth Day documentary release, Chimpanzee. The Disney Nature release made $2.3M this weekend, to bring its total to date to $23M. It became the second most successful release for the subsidiary on Tuesday but won't surpass Earth's $32M finish.

The Three Stooges adds $1.8M this frame, its fourth on general release, giving it a running total of $39.6M. The Farrelly Bros. comedy actually dropped out of the chart on Friday but matinee sales helped it secure one final top ten showing.

The limited release The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel made $750K from 27 locations, giving it a very strong screen/takings average. Also in limited release, Bernie, added another $140K from only 17 locations. The total so far for the Jack Black comedy is $261K.

 Even with The Avengers out there, Battleship still managed to cross $200M internationally this weekend.

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