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May 04, 2012

Assembling The Avengers: "The Avengers" Scores Eighth-Best Midnight Open Ever

Tops for a superhero film, just barely edging out The Dark Knight.

I saw it today. This isn't my review, this is just a post about the business/news side of it. At a 10:15 am show, a large theater was nearly 100% sold-out (and I think probably 100%). I got there ten minutes early and had to search for seats.

You have to admire the business plan behind it all, and especially the execution. Like The Lord of the Rings, this is the sort of thing that sounds like a good idea... until you realize it automatically begins with a production budget of $200 million or more, and if it's not good, you eat most of that.

So it's a risk.

The upside is that major billion dollar franchises don't just grow on trees. And if you can invent one out of whole cloth, you're almost just printing money.

Who the hell thought, just four years ago, that Iron Man would be a major franchise character (Iron Man?!!? For years he was a supporting player in his own middle-sellilng comic book, for crying out loud).

And this all started because someone had the bright idea to do a little fan service in a post-credit segment at the end of Iron Man. And because Samuel L. Jackson's agents called the Marvel people looking for some kind of role in Iron Man (most likely, the Rhodey role, though it doesn't say here).

Spider-Man had been indentured to Sony, and the X-Men and Fantastic Four were already at Fox, but the remaining roster of potential movie heroes was still plenty deep. First up: Iron Man, an alcoholic gazillionaire playboy who builds his own rocket-powered exoskeleton. Then there’s the Hulk, a brilliant scientist who turns into a massively strong, uncontrollable green monster. Oh, and Captain America—a supersoldier from World War II brought into the present—and Thor, a hammer-wielding Norse god with superpowers and family drama that makes the real housewives of Atlanta look like the Osmonds....

All those characters had something else in common: They were the core of a comic book team that began in 1963 called the Avengers, Marvel’s answer to DC’s Justice League of America....But the idea that Spider-Man movies could happen in the same universe as X-Men movies? Save that kind of talk for the comics shop, kid. “On almost every movie,” says Kevin Feige, head of Marvel Studios and a veteran producer of films based on Marvel comics, “the writer or director would go, ‘Hey, could we add this character?’ And someone in the legal department would say, ‘No, we can’t do that.’”

With Iron Man, though, Marvel itself was running the show—and suddenly the answer was, “Hell yes.” Samuel L. Jackson’s agents had called Feige to ask about a part in Iron Man... So Feige asked director Jon Favreau to add a scene with Jackson as Fury, welcoming Iron Man’s alter ego to a larger world of superheroes. “He was not only telling Tony Stark about the Avengers,” Feige says. “He was telling the audience.”


If Iron Man had flopped, the cameo would have been a throwaway joke. But the movie made $318 million in the US...

Marvel started cranking out a new crop of movies, each featuring a different character, and fans began to realize that they hinted at a wider crossover potential. Stark had Captain America’s shield in his house. The bad guy in The Incredible Hulk got injected with a version of the supersoldier serum that created Captain America. It wasn’t that hard; Marvel was there to help the writers with a whole basket of Easter eggs: paramilitary agencies, Nazi scientists, magic cubes, secret formulas, and so on. The moviemakers started watching one another’s rough cuts and consulting with a “creative committee” of Marvel Comics writers. “In the first Iron Man, the Easter eggs were simply inside jokes for the Marvel faithful,” Favreau says. “By the time the second one rolled around, part of the agenda was to build toward The Avengers.”

So, four years later, and they've cranked out five movies which turn out to be extended advertisements for yet another film. And all of them pretty good. (Captain America and Iron Man 2 a little disappointing, The Incredible Hulk surprisingly decent (though maybe I just like it because it's almost more about Captain America, who I like a lot, than the Hulk)).

All of these guys were second-stringers in the comic books, and virtually unknown to anyone who wasn't a nerd. You can count the number of comic book heroes the general public is aware of one one hand, and part of another: Batman, Superman, Spiderman, the Hulk a little, maybe the X-Men, and maybe some of the characters people remember from the Super Friends, like the Flash or... um, Zan and Jana and their Space Monkey Gleek. (Corrected. Turns out it's "Gleek," not "Gleep.")

But they actually executed "The Avengers Initiative" they inserted as a joke for fanboys at the end of one movie. And they already made $300 million in some (only 30 or so) overseas markets in a week, and will almost certainly make $400 million or more in America. And then the rest of the world markets brings that to a billion, easily.

And they already made a billion making people pay for the prologues to this movie.

Billions of dollars because someone got the bright idea to toss in a joke for nerds.



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posted by Ace at 03:01 PM

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