‘Avengers’ soar, ‘Harry Potter’ box-office magic now a card trick?

May 06, 2012 | 10:12 p.m.
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Director Joss Whedon, left, and Samuel L. Jackson on the set of “The Avengers.” (Zade Rosenthal / Marvel Studios)

Turns out Hulk isn’t the only one who can deliver a big green smash. Joss Whedon just scored a Galactus-sized success with “The Avengers,” which not only topped the “Harry Potter” single-weekend record, it made the once magical Hogwarts crowd seem like, well, schoolchildren waving sticks in the air.

The sixth Marvel Studios release just completed the best opening weekend in movie history, earning $200.3 million at the domestic box office, an especially staggering number when you consider that previous mark by “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2” was $169.2-million. More than that, with all the sparkling reviews, director and co-writer Whedon has a genuine summer cinema supernova — Tony Stark is still at the center of the Marvel Studios universe, but now he’s not the only one standing there in the warm glow of cascading cosmic rays.

The numbers are bigger the deeper you look. The North American box office total added to an already unfolding global success story; playing in 52 international markets, the movie collected $151.5 million this weekend, raising its tally abroad to $441.5 million. That means that after just two weeks in release, “The Avengers” already has sold $641.8 million worth of tickets, jumping past “The Hunger Games” on the ranking of top-grossing 2012 releases worldwide.

No one could be prouder than Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios, the Hollywood upstart that launched in 2008 with “Iron Man” with a “risky” leading man in Robert Downey Jr. and “an actor playing director” in Jon Favreau.

Downey and Favreau redefined themselves, and their success inspired Feige and his team to roll the dice again and again; he built the Thor franchise around an unknown Australian actor named Chris Hemsworth, for instance, and set the Captain America film in World War II and never swayed from the audacious ambition of weaving the Marvel movie franchises together for an all-star film (that would also throw in secret agents, monsters, aliens and a trickster god named Loki).

10 Avengers soar, Harry Potter box office magic now a card trick?

Chris Evans, left, and Robert Downey Jr. in “The Avengers.” (Zade Rosenthal / Marvel Studios)

From the outset, “The Avengers” success didn’t necessarily seem like a sure thing. “I am going to blow it,” declared a humble, humorous Whedon at San Diego’s Comic-Con International in 2010, when the movie’s cast assembled on stage at the expo’s expansive Hall H amid the thundering cheers of 6,000 ardent fans. “I’m not up to it,” Whedon added at the time, standing alongside Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr., Jeremy Renner and Mark Ruffalo, among others.

It is true, that as movie vehicles go, this one might have been too crowded to ever gain any forward momentum. Last year, on the New Mexico set of “The Avengers,” no one was more acutely aware of the aerodynamic dangers than Whedon, the acclaimed Hollywood writer known for pitch-perfect comedy and group dialogue. (Now, for the first time, he is also know for having directed a blockbuster hit.)

“I’ve been the master of the universe on the sets I’ve walked on, but I’m not on this one,” Whedon said last year on the film’s New Mexico set as he watched Downey in his Iron Man armor prepare for a fight scene. “I was coming from a place where I was almost a playwright with things as specific as the placement of the comma, but I had to let go of that here. And what I found has been extraordinary. And the energy is just coiled in people here. Everyone wants to be great.”

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Chris Hemsworth, left, and Chris Evans in a scene from “The Avengers.” (Marvel Studios)

Mission accomplished. Marvel is about to start shooting “Iron Man 3,” while “Thor 2” is ramping and Feige seems reengaged with director Edgar Wright’s “Ant-Man” project. For the moment, though, everyone in the Marvel universe can sit back and bask in the glow of cosmic windfall — and ousted Walt Disney Studios chief Rich Ross can wonder why he got all the blame for “John Carter’s” interstellar crash  but not one huzzah for the “Avengers” conquest. (Wait, was that Ross in the credits laughing about love and death?)

On Sunday, a spokesman for Feige said that the executive was going “to lie low” and soak it all in, which made me think of Uatu standing passively on some lunar ridgeline watching the box-office reports from Earth.

There’s plenty for Feige to fret about, too: Can he actually hold this cast together after this film crosses the billion-dollar mark and all their agents reach for calculators and their cellphones?

On a more positive note, can the new crowd-pleasing version of the Hulk turn Marvel’s second-most famous character into a decent solo franchise? Is the Winter Soldier the ideal storyline for a Captain America sequel? Will director Whedon stick around long-term or will something like that Wonder Woman movie he wanted make tempt him toward other star systems? Time will tell, and plenty of people will be keeping track like an amateur Uatus.  Yes, after “The Avengers,” the whole world is watching.

— Geoff Boucher


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14 Responses to ‘Avengers’ soar, ‘Harry Potter’ box-office magic now a card trick?

  1. Guest says:

    "and ousted Walt Disney Studios chief Rich Ross can wonder why he got all the blame for “John Carter’s” interstellar crash but not one huzzah for the “Avengers” conquest. (Wait, was that Ross in the credits laughing about love and death?)"

    Did he actually have anything to do with the Avengers? Marvel has been working on that since before Disney bought them, so it's not as if the idea originated with Disney or Ross.

  2. gloria says:

    amazing film, amazing marketing. A job very very well done. Wow.

  3. davidkscholes says:

    The Avengers was always going to be the big one as far as Marvel was concerned. Given the Marvel icons appearing in the movie and the huge build up towards it.

    So I guess the early box office results and reviews are not really a surprise.

    It was a great movie but as a long time Thor fan – I thought the Hulk rather upstaged Thor.

    As an Aussie sci-fi writer: http://www.lulu.com/shop/david-scholes/soldier-of… I’ve written a solid collection of Marvel (espec Thor) fan fiction, why not check it out? http://www.fanfiction.net/u/1276881/David_Scholes

  4. David says:

    Avengers is going to be a huge success but Harry Potter will be epic.

    • cynic says:

      Correction: Harry Potter WAS epic, but now it's over. The success of The Avengers takes nothing away from that of the HP series.

      • Ashley says:

        uh uh

        Avengers is like so much better it was MORE THAN EPIC.

        HP is so old. Hunger Games was after HP and now AVENGERS IS LIKE SO FRKN AWESOME.

        people are right. Avengers makes HP look like little kids waving sticks in the air. I have an Avengers email.

      • JamesSteven1985 says:

        Harry Potter made so much more internationally and Harry Potter was way better, read any critics review. Avengers is just ok, Harry Potter is epic. Let’s see, your American, so you have no taste in movies. Will avengers ever win a best film award? No. Has Harry Potter? Yes. Do shut up you stupid git!

  5. Samantha says:

    Okay, just because it beat Harry Potter does not mean that Harry Potter was bad. Personally, I think that the Avengers was more anticipated and has a wider audience because the stories have been around longer. On the other hand, though, I like Harry Potter significantly more than the Avengers. So the little snide remarks about Harry potter are completely uncalled for.

  6. Lily says:

    Here's what you need to know.
    Harry Potter has an emotional tie that you are to much of a dunderhead to see
    Avengers is all about fighting for the military
    Harry Potter is about choosing sides, love and friendship, and how strong teens can be
    Avengers is American (i am am American by the way)
    Harry Potter is British

  7. Jamie says:

    Who cares?
    Twilight still is the worst movie of all time.

  8. SelphieFairy says:

    Um the point isnt to compare it to Harry Potter. The point is that it beat Harry Potter's opening weekend records. Harry Potter is EXTREMELY popular, so getting higher numbers than it is something shocking. It's not saying one or the other is better or worse.

  9. Jon says:

    Harry Potter still holds the title of largest opening weekend world wide with over 400 million.
    Both films are great with legacy. Everything is better than Twilight

  10. JamesSteven1985 says:

    Harry Potter was a better film, and it made more in the international market, who cares about the American “domestic” market? Harry Potter was considered one of the best, if not the best film of last year. Is avengers that good? The simple answer is no, it most certainly is not.

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