IS THIS the year that Marvel finally tops Star Wars?
Judging by early box-office figures and a new Fandango movie poll, this could indeed be the turning point when the Avengers prove more popular than the Rebel Alliance.
Ever since Disney-owned Lucasfilm rebooted the space movie franchise in 2015, the biggest Star Wars film of each year has outdistanced the biggest release from Disney-owned Marvel Studios.
That was to be expected in 2015, when frenzied fans — hungry for the kind of satisfying Star Wars fare they hadn’t had since the original trilogy released three decades earlier — helped propel “The Force Awakens” to a domestic gross of $937 million (the highest total ever before adjusting for inflation). That total more than doubled the take of 2015’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” ($459 million).
The following year, Star Wars continued to hold on to its annual crown. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” grossed $532.2 million domestically, staying well ahead of 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War” ($408 million).
Then, last year wasn’t even close: “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” grossed $620.2 million in North America, while Marvel’s biggest 2017 release, “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2,” grossed $389.8 million.
This year, however, Marvel has come loaded for bear.
Hurtling toward summer, “Black Panther” remains the year’s biggest film by a long shot, having grossed $676 million domestically — a high bar to cross for any Star Wars film being released this far along into the franchise.
But the plot twist is, this month’s “Avengers: Infinity War” is tracking even higher than “Black Panther.” The mobile-ticketing platform Fandango announced last week that “Infinity War” was outselling the past seven Marvel Cinematic Universe movies — combined — in presale tickets.
Fandango follows that announcement up this week with news of a seasonal blockbuster survey that polled 4,500 fans. According to the ticketing site, the season’s most anticipated release is “Infinity War” (opening April 27), followed by “Deadpool 2” (May 18), with “Solo: A Star Wars Story” (May 25) sliding into third place ahead of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” (June 22). And worth noting: Marvel’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp” (July 6) clocks in at No. 10.
“Infinity War” also has the benefit of being presented as the culmination of a decade of Marvel Studios releases — 18 in all — and thus as a true “event” film. “Infinity War,” too, rides the huge current wave of popularity enjoyed by “Black Panther,” and is smartly set partly on Black Panther’s home turf of Wakanda. (In that regard, Marvel does have the advantage of greater numbers, releasing multiple titles each year.)
“Solo,” by contrast, is a one-off movie about young Han Solo, and not part of Disney’s main Star Wars trilogy that concludes next year with “Star Wars: Episode IX.”
It doesn’t help, either, that “Solo” was plagued with production issues, as original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired, and Ron Howard assumed the helm and reportedly reshot much of the movie.
When “Infinity War” opens next week, it will try to top the $248 million opening weekend of “The Force Awakens” (the biggest domestic debut before adjusting for inflation). Star Wars is not going to give up any box-office crowns easily. (Current projections have “Infinity War” opening as high as $235 million.)
Marvel and Star Wars have long been linked, of course, since Marvel published the first Star Wars comic books four decades ago. Now, their cinematic franchises go head to head yet again.
And whichever film empire triumphs at the 2018 box office, the big winner naturally remains the same: the kingdom of Disney.
Correction: An earlier version of a caption misidentified the actor who plays Captain America.