What Does CAPTAIN MARVEL Box Office Success Look Like?

"Captain Marvel" poster
Credit: Marvel Studios
Credit: Marvel Studios

$450 million dollars domestic. $900 million worldwide.

There, we said it.

What, you thought we were going to bury the lede?

Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel is ready to photon blast its way into theaters more or less globally starting in a week, and along with the standard expectations of whether or not Marvel can keep the world’s longest critical winning streak alive (early signs suggest ‘yes’), comes some heightened anticipation as to just how successful it will be at the box office.

And isn’t it saying something in of itself that the question isn’t whether it’ll be successful, but to what degree it’ll be a success?

Now the Brie Larson-starrer isn’t actually the first major DC-Marvel solo female lead superhero movie - that would be Supergirl in 1984!

… just seeing if you were paying attention.

But seriously, 2017’s smash-hit Wonder Woman gets that effective credit for the contemporary era. And Evangeline Lilly’s Wasp was actually the first Marvel Studios female hero in the title of a film in 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp. So while Captain Marvel is more of a qualified than literal market ‘first,’ it still has something of an event-y feel to it, given Marvel Studios is clearly positioning it as not only the debut of their first solo female hero, but also the launch of who they are signaling is a new major character of any gender.

Credit: Marvel Studios

So whether Captain Marvel is going to play to audiences as a pop culture zeitgeist event a la Wonder Woman and 2018’s Black Panther or as a more standard Marvel solo debut ... or something in-between remains to be seen. But the aforementioned benchmark for box office success probably lies somewhere in the middle of those two things as well.

Early indications are the film is playing like an event. The early social media reaction Disney allowed select press outlets to put out there seems to be pitching it as such, and what’s become the standard early box office indicators all seem to be feeding the event narrative.

Early domestic box office opening weekend tracking began with estimates in the $100 to $120 million range. Of note, that is almost exactly what the first estimates for Black Panther were, which proved to be wildly too conservative, if you’ll forgive an oxymoron. Fandango has weighed in, reporting the film is only trailing Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War in MCU pre-sales (both had $200m+ opening weekends domestically). And BoxOffice.com has started their projections off with a North American $160m opening weekend prediction, whereas its initial Black Panther domestic estimate was just $90m opening/$275m total (that didn’t age well).

Now everyone and anyone left of the Malibu coast with even a passing knowledge of popular film knows Marvel Studios wants this to play in similar fashion to Black Panther - i.e. embraced for its pop cultural relevance.

The studio, however, has been astute not to overdo the direct comparison themselves. They’re smartly allowing the public and media to make that calculation on its own, even forgoing an opportunity just a week ago to draw any direct comparison between the characters. In a promo video the studio compared Carol Danvers’ origin/debut to Iron Man, Thor and Captain America’s, conspicuously not including the more recently-introduced Black Panther in the mix where they easily could have.

Credit: Warner Bros.

So putting aside more subjective comps, from a pure numbers standpoint Captain Marvel’s box office floor is pretty easy to figure. Every MCU film that has opened to $100m domestic has eventually passed $300m total domestic. Not for nothing, when $300m is your likely floor, you’re living in a very swanky and exclusive Marvel-Disney hi-rise. And that’s not even considering the character really doesn’t own much of a mainstream Q factor, unlike say … Wonder Woman, the most iconic female superhero and hell … female fictional character of all time.

And on that note, while Captain Marvel doesn’t have Wonder Woman’s cultural pedigree, Wonder Woman didn’t have the MCU and the Disney machine in its corner, so broad comparison seems fair in the balance.

Wonder Woman opened to $103m domestically and churned its way all summer to $413 domestic total, albeit in traditionally more favorable box office months. That made it one of the leggiest (no pun intended whatsoever) superhero titles ever at an opening of just 25% of its total figure.

So even at a very healthy domestic opening of 30% (for the record, Black Panther scored 28.9% despite its massive first weekend), Captain Marvel would need a $135m opening in North America to get it to a $450m domestic total, giving it a healthy comp to Wonder Woman and becoming just the seventh (of 21) MCU films to score over $400m.

Credit: Marvel Studios

Now given this is a Marvel Studios film, something of a lead-in to Avengers: Endgame and has those potential event elements in place, Captain Marvel’s ceiling is obviously much higher than that. A domestic opening closer to $200m than $100m could change the game entirely, and the still pending critical mass of reviews can certainly rejigger the whole equation. But $450m North American sounds like a both obtainable-if-things-go-well and healthy enough figure for Marvel Studios to declare a resounding victory, even if it didn’t meet the higher end of possibilities.

Now as to its overseas/worldwide total, that’s something of a whole other can of worms, and a complicated subject for another day. But assuming a conservative (with precedent) 50/50% domestic-foreign match, that’s a mirror $450m overseas total for $900m global. That would make it again just the seventh Marvel Studios film and eleventh superhero film to reach that total, again besting Wonder Woman’s $821m worldwide total by a healthy enough figure.

Let us know on Twitter or Facebook what you think Captain Marvel box office success looks like.

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