With a global box office take of $640 million for "The Avengers" opening weekend, that $4 billion that Disney spent back in 2009 to acquire Marvel Entertainment doesn't seem like all that much.
The star-studded Marvel blockbuster pulled off the biggest box office opening in U.S. history this weekend, a welcome piece of good news for a studio that has been stumbling from one misstep to another.
"The Avengers," which has taken in more than a half-billion dollars in just 12 days, sets the stage for Disney to change the tone of the conversation about its movie strategy.
Disney wouldn't confirm but didn't deny Sunday that an "Avengers" sequel is on the way. That, along with the boost to the studio's upcoming Marvel character movies and the millions to come in licensing deals and theme park projects ensure "The Avengers" will be pumping revenue into Disney's coffers for the foreseeable future.
In addition, TheWrap has learned that Disney CEO Bob Iger has chosen a successor to the ill-fated studio chief Rich Ross, according to two individuals with knowledge of the situation.
Turning a new leaf with a global blockbuster and a fresh face heading the studio is a good way to head into an earnings call on Tuesday, and would put "John Carter" and the Rich Ross debacle further in the rearview mirror.
When Disney reports its fiscal second-quarter earnings, the focus will still be on the $200 million writedown on megaflop "John Carter" that the company announced in April. But it will be balanced by the weekend's astonishing box office take. Disney shares are currently trading at $42.93, not far off its peak $44.50 established in March.
"The Avengers" didn't just beat the final "Harry Potter" movie for the best-ever opening, it beat it by $30 million, with a staggering $200.3 million three-day haul. That came on the heels of an international campaign that was carefully calibrated to pump domestic buzz, and has taken in $441 million to date in the process.
The stratospheric opening numbers for "The Avengers" are to a large degree the result of a strategic master plan devised by Marvel president Kevin Feige, a producer on the film, and the Marvel Studios team. They plotted the slow-build of anticipation for "The Avengers" over six years, beginning with the first "Iron Man" movie in 2008.
And the plan is still working: The unprecedented success of Joss Whedon's "The Avengers" will provide a shot in the arm for the next three Marvel superhero films. Next year, the third "Iron Man" film arrives in May and a "Thor" sequel is set for November 2013."Captain America: The First Avenger" is planned for April in 2014.
For Disney, the broad appeal of "The Avengers" both domestically and abroad should pay dividends beyond movie tickets.
“We expect Disney to push the Marvel franchise more aggressively across international markets,” Drew Crum, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus & Co., wrote in an April 27 report. The Marvel division generated $6 billion in retail merchandise sales last year, according to License! Global magazine.
It will be difficult today to find any of the critics who wondered if Disney was the right fit when it bought Marvel in 2009 and the following year, when it acquired from Paramount the rights to the two final Marvel movies -- "The Avengers" and "Iron Man 3."
At the time, there were doubts based on the fact that Disney, big on family fare, had no experience with superhero movies. But plainly the Disney marketing machine was hitting on all cylinders on "The Avengers."
The fanboys came out on Friday, to the tune of $80.5 million, but it was families and adults who came out on a record-breaking $69.5 million Saturday, and Sunday.
"It became an 'everybody' movie," Disney executive vice president of distribution Dave Hollis told TheWrap, and the demo numbers back that up. "The Avengers" drew 60 percent male and 40 percent female, but split 50-50 on those over 25 years of age and those under. Teens were just 21 percent of the audience, while couples made up 55 percent.
Hollywood as a whole could benefit, too. "The Avengers" pumped the overall domestic revenues for the weekend to $248 million, a 49 percent rise from last year's first summer frame, when "Thor" opened to $65.7 million.
Another Marvel superhero will come on the scene on July 3, when Sony debuts "The Amazing Spider-Man." Many box-office observers believe that the film that will challenge "The Avengers," if anyone can now, is Warners' DC Comics-based Batman film, "The Dark Knight Rises." It opens on July 20.