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'Endgame' Nears All-Time Record, And The Age Of Disney Mega-Blockbusters Is Upon Us

As Thanos dominates the universe in <em>Avengers: Endgame</em>, so Disney dominates the box office — for the foreseeable future.
Marvel Studios
As Thanos dominates the universe in Avengers: Endgame, so Disney dominates the box office — for the foreseeable future.

There's been some question about whether Avengers: Endgame will knock global box-office champ Avatar out of first place in Hollywood's record books.

Endgamenow stands at nearly $2.75 billion, putting it just shy of Avatar's $2.79 billion, and limping toward a finish line it may not quite cross, but hey, what's a few million dollars among blockbusting pals, right?

Avatar's held the top spot since knocking Titanicdown a peg a decade ago.

Back on the day those two changed places in 2009, James Cameron was probably pretty happy, having directed both films. But now, suddenly, 20th Century Fox had bragging rights for Avatar, and Titanic's (and Paramount Pictures') 12-year stint as King of the Box Office World was over.

Fox, let's note, was back on top for the first time in four decades, having last worn the crown in 1977, with Star Wars.

That's over forty years in the wilderness, watching E.T. , then Jurassic Park, then Titanic all sail past Star Wars' worldwide record.

Now, you'd think the threat that Disney might swipe the crown away from Fox would prompt wails of anguish, but it's hard for the folks at Fox to be too upset.

Because these days, Disney ownsFox.

Which means Disney doesn't just own the Marvel Universe — and Star Wars, which it bought a few years ago — it now also owns Avatar. And that fact is about to change the way the rest of Hollywood is forced to do business.

Here's the deal. These days, there are blockbusters, and there are mega-blockbusters.

Regular blockbusters prompt a wave of moviegoing that lifts all boats and makes the entire industry happy. Aquaman, for instance, was a strong #1 when it opened, but there was still room at the multiplex that weekend for Mary Poppins Returns, the Transformers movie Bumblebeeand Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse —all of which did excellent business while Aquamanwas swimming to first place.

On the other hand, the arrival of a mega-blockbuster — a two-billion-dollar kind of movie — sucks up all the oxygen at the box office.

In its first week, Avengers: Endgame sold 88% of the movie tickets that were purchased in North America, leaving just 12 percent to be split by more than a hundred other movies that might as well not have been open. Go back to other mega-blockbusters, and you see the same thing. they take up all the oxygen. Avengers: Infinity War, The Last Jedi, The Force Awakens, Black Panthereach took in about 80 percent of their opening weekends, crushing everything else at the multiplex. Small wonder that other studios have learned to steer clear of these all-consuming box office behemoths.

Which has been fine historically, because mega-blockbusters have tended to open in the summer, when kids are out of school for a while, and the other studios can still jockey for position. Let the season's 800-pound gorilla dominate Memorial Day, there's still the 4th of July, and the rest of July-and-August for other big films to have a shot at families on vacation.

But as big as any of those summer weeks can get at the boxoffice, there's one holiday week that's bigger: Christmas week is reliably, almost invariably, the biggest single 7-day stretch of Hollywood's year.

That's why so many films angle to be in theaters at Christmastime: feel-good holiday movies, awards-contenders with their prestige advertising, costume epics, comedies, action flicks and more.

Every studio opens something big in late December, which has resulted for years in a happy flotilla of blockbusters that play to different audience segments, lifting all boats.

But Disney recently made an announcement that's going to change that. Now that the company controls all of the franchises in the 2-billion-dollar club (Marvel, Star Wars and Avatar), it doesn't have to play chicken with other studios about opening dates — it can just claim them.

And it's done that ... for the next eight years.

Marvel has never opened at Christmas, and still won't. Its superheroes will continue to own the summers. But in late December, from now until 2027, Disney is going to alternate Star Wars installments IX, X, XI and XII with Avatars 2, 3, 4 and 5.

So if you're sitting at Warner Bros. or Universal or Sony and you have an awards-contender you need to open at year's end in order for it to have a decent shot at Oscars, and you'd rather it didn'tget flattened in its opening week, what's your plan?

Disney, for its part, won't care about what any other studios will do at Christmas because the only thing they cando is get out of the way.

As for audiences? Well, they'll vote with their ticket dollars.

Happy holidays?

NOTE: The competition for worldwide bragging rights isn't quite over. This weekend,Avengers: Endgame will be re-released with a deleted scene and what Marvel calls "a little tribute and a few surprises." Might be just the thing to push it pastAvatar and take the crown, once and for ... all?

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.