Summer Blockbuster Season Starts Early

Three Factors Driving the Success of Marvel's 'Infinity Wars'

May 02, 2018

SMITH BRAIN TRUST – That Marvel Studios’ “Avengers: Infinity War” shattered box-office records in its opening weekend is itself pretty impressive. But what’s even more impressive is how it’s helping to shatter the industry’s notion of a summer blockbuster season.

Disney’s highly anticipated megastar-filled opus, the first installment of a two-part finale to the 20-film superhero franchise, made an estimated $640 million worldwide in its opening weekend, crushing the record set last year by Universal Studios’ “The Fate of the Furious.”

And “Infinity War” did so on a non-holiday weekend in April, weeks before the Memorial Day weekend traditional start to the summer blockbuster season.

“It puts Marvel and Disney in the lead for a very strong summer position, weeks before that season is supposed to start,” says David M. Waguespack, associate professor of management and organization at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

Studios can benefit from a pushback from the traditional seasonality, Waguespack says, disregarding the U.S. calendar and instead hunkering down on an off-peak weekend when films can make a bigger global splash. The long-coveted Memorial Day weekend draws big American moviegoing crowds – and a lot of competition between film debuts. For example, the tentpole “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” film debuted on a non-holiday weekend in early May last year, ahead of the traditional summer season, with impressive returns.

Had “Infinity Wars” debuted on Memorial Day, it would have had to compete against “Solo,” the latest release of the Star Wars franchise. The two mega-franchises – Marvel’s “Avengers” and Lucasfilm’s “Star Wars” – are both owned by Disney.

With four weeks between the two release dates, fans will have time to see “Infinity War” multiple times before queuing for opening weekend of “Solo.”

Three Other Keys Driving ‘Infinity’ Success

Relationships & Embeddedness: In research into the motion picture industry, Waguespack has examined what’s known as “embeddedness,” or the often-improved box office performance that results when particular production teams and distributors work together on a frequent basis.

Typically, it’s assumed that the higher performance results from getting to know the strengths and weaknesses of the partners you’re working with and in developing trusting, effective relationships over multiple projects, he says. “And that is certainly a plausible explanation,” he admits. “But what we have shown is that studios actually invest more in movies that are done by parties that they know well, and that they know work well together. And so it’s a little harder to know whether the success was a result of choosing the right partner or of receiving the best resources – favorable release dates, a big marketing push, opens on multiple screens.”

Either way, he says, “Infinity War,” the 19th installment in the Marvel movie opus is certainly getting that treatment.

IP Bundle: The commercial success of “Infinity War” can be attributed in part to their built-in audience base, Waguespack says. Blockbuster Hollywood films often contain “these bundles of intellectual property,” he says, that connect them to other movies, books or comics, and lend themselves easily to the creation of other ancillary products – theme park rides or additional video game tie-ins, for example.

“This is something that Disney has done exceptionally well,” he says. “In terms of the performance compared to other movies, they are consistently extraordinary. And it’s extraordinary in this industry to be this consistent.”

Ratings game: “Infinity War” also benefits from its PG-13 rating. In his research, Waguespack has found that major studios are often able to make movies with more adult content, while still receiving the coveted PG-13 rating that invites a wider moviegoing audience.

“Audiences like adult content,” Waguespack says. “Really the best place in the market to be is a PG-13 movie that should be rated R, because all the teenagers can go and it’s got the content that people respond to.” In the study, whose sample period ended in 2006, “Titanic” became a prime example – a top-grossing PG-13 movie that Waguespack says, “by all objective standards, should have been an R-rated movie.”

Then again, he says, the film industry does have a habit of upsetting conventional wisdom. 

“There’s that famous aphorism about the film industry, ‘Nobody knows anything,’” Waguespack says. “Everyone has theories, including people like me. But it can be a very noisy and unpredictable industry.”



About the Expert(s)

Dr. David M. Waguespack is Associate Professor of Management & Organization at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. Dr. Waguespack received his PhD in Political Science, focusing on environmental politics and science and technology policy. Prior to arriving at Maryland he was a project manager at the University of California Los Angeles, and an adjunct political science professor at SUNY Buffalo. Dr. Waguespack 's research focuses on non-market influences, such as social networks and political institutions, on innovation and venture performance. His ongoing work pursues these questions in the domains of film production and distribution, internet technology development, international patenting, and environmental management.

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