Headlines earlier this summer boldly trumpeted the takeover. The Harry Potter franchise, with eight films in the books, overthrew the Star Wars series as the money-makingest franchise of all time. Even grumblers that pointed out that it took Potter eight films to do it had to acknowledge that Star Wars did indeed have seven films on the clock (the six live-action moves, plus the theatrically released The Clone Wars CGI film).
In terms of dollars, the Harry Potter series stands, as of August 12, 2011, with $2.35 billion in the bank (according to BoxOfficeMojo.com). The Star Wars series, the previous record-holder, hovers at around $1.9 billion. A number of other franchises exist in the post- billion stratosphere: these include Batman ($1.4 billion+, with the big threat of Dark Knight Rises looming), James Bond ($1.6 billion, though that’s spread over more than 20 films), Lord of the Rings ($1.06 billion, and set to soar when the two Hobbit films drop), Pirates ($1.27 billion), Shrek (also around $1.27 billion, and set to overtake Pirates with the release of Puss in Boots), Spider-Man ($1.13 billion), Star Trek ($1.013 billion) and Transformers ($1.072 billion). Close bets include X-Men ($931 million; one more installment of X-Men or Wolverine will push it over) and Twilight ($789 million, but two more films on deck).
The question now before the court is this: how long until Avengers makes its play for the top? For a long while, Avengers wasn’t actually counted as a franchise. Indeed, if you look at various film sites, including Mojo, they’ve counted Iron Man separately, and so on. However, the sites have begun grouping things together under the Avengers aegis as that film nears its release date. Mojo now officially counts Iron Man 1 & 2, Cap, Thor and The Incredible Hulk as the first five entrants; together, they’ve assembled $1.049 billion. Sure, that’s a ways south of Star Wars, not to mention Potter.
However . . .
Avengers seems like an automatic hit. All of the players (Disney, Marvel, Paramount, etc.) have done their level best to leverage brand awareness over the last several years. The post-credits sequence game that the films have been playing since Iron Man have cannily built anticipation, and even those not already in the know are bound to be curious when the big trailers for the film start to hit (surely this thing has Super Bowl spot written all over it). Still even a stellar run for Avengers won’t push it past the leaders.
On the other hand, recall that the pundits are now counting the RELATED films under the Avengers franchise. And thus far, Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 are on the schedule. It seems certain, given that Captain America: The First Avenger is performing just as well as Thor, that we’ll hear that Cap 2 has a date any day now. The subsequent totals for ALL THREE of those films will now fall under Avengers tallies.
Consider also, any Avengers sequels and spin-offs from that point on will ALSO feed the Avengers totals. With no new Star Wars films in sight (though there is the upcoming 3D re-release of all six films over the next few years) and Potter done, certainly for the moment, it looks entirely possible that Avengers could steal a run here. The proper Avengers film sees release next year. Based on the action that it generates, we’ll have a better picture.
Of course, the big challenge comes from Middle Earth. Though there are only two films in the Hobbit set, it’s entirely possible that they’ll do huge numbers, possibly enough to slide into third behind Star Wars. The LOTR family, though, doesn’t have the continual build-out potential of the Avengers label. It remains entirely possible that by 2015, maybe sooner, the biggest moneymaking franchise in movie history could belong to the Avengers.
What would that mean? Well, it depends. It’ll certainly help Disney and Marvel. They’ll get to keep cranking out projects at various levels. Things previously thought undoable, like a Moon Knight TV series or a Power Man & Iron Fist film, might have a lot more room to maneuver with that title and bank under the belt of the Mouse.
It would be another validation in the notion that, even though comics themselves occasionally seem like niche affair, the characters and concepts contained therein can still have broad and worldwide appeal. If that means that hey, comics are pretty cool, well . . . we already knew that didn’t we?
At the end of the day, this means far more to accountants and the beneficiaries of the bottom line than it does to the man and woman on the street. However, as fans, it’s fun to see that not only does the rest of the world occasionally like the same things that we do . . . they occasionally like them in really, really large numbers.