“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” storms the box office starting Wednesday, when Disney rolls out out its third post-“Avengers” Marvel superhero sequel across much of Europe.
If the first two post-“Avengers” films (“Iron Man 3” and “Thor: The Dark World”) are an indicator, the followup to “Captain America: The First Avenger” should out-gross the original by plenty. Especially if it receives a boost from the 2012 blockbuster “Marvel’s The Avengers.”
Disney is betting that it will, opening “The Winter Soldier” overseas a week ahead of its April 4 debut in North America. It’s tracking for an $80 million-plus opening, which would be the year’s biggest domestic debut.
“Audiences have had a lot of great exposure with the introduction of Captain America in the 2011 film and an integral role in ‘Marvel’s The Avengers,’ which is the third biggest film of all time,” Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis told TheWrap Tuesday. “The Marvel films are like interlocking puzzle pieces, so we expect to see increased interest.”
The original 2011 film was a hit. “Captain America,” distributed by Paramount and produced for $140 million, opened to an impressive $65 million in North America. It went on to take in $176 million domestically and another $194 million from overseas.
That was pre-“Avengers,” though — and that 2012 film’s $1.5 billion global haul greatly changed the game for all subsequent films in Marvel’s cinematic universe.
“Iron Man 3” and “Dark World” played more like follow-ups to Joss Whedon‘s team-up film than their originals. “Iron Man 3,” the first Marvel movie after “The Avengers,” nearly doubled the $623 million worldwide haul of “Iron Man 2” with $1.21 billion. And last November, the Thor sequel brought in $644 globally, compared to the $449 million that Kenneth Brannagh’s original film took in.
Chris Evans returns as the red-white-and-blue crusader Steve Rogers in “Winter Soldier,” which carries a $170 million production budget. Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Mackie and Robert Redford co-star. The screenwriters are Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (“Thor: The Dark World”), working from a story by comic book writer Ed Brubaker, and the directors are Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, taking over for Joe Johnston.
The plot features Rogers struggling to embrace his role in the modern world, while battling the Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier. Given that story line, it will be interesting to see how it plays in Russia, where it opens on April 3 — particularly given the recent tension between the U.S. and Russia over Crimea.
The film is quickly making headlines around the globe, as its stars build buzz attending red-carpet premieres last week in London and Paris — all ahead of a stop in China.
Reviews are also in “Winter Soldier’s” box-office favor; they’ve have been especially strong for a superhero movie. And there is still room to grow.
But both Disney and the industry are keeping an eye on how the film plays in European markets. “Captain America: The First Avenger” did just OK in Europe. The leading market was the U.K., where it brought in $14.7 million, followed by France ($10.2 million), Italy ($8.6 million) and Spain ($7.7 million).
“The first film was pretty soft in Europe,” said Bruce Nash, founder of box office tracking service The Numbers. “I think it will do much better than that this time around, thanks to ‘The Avengers,’ but my benchmark would be for an opening around $10 million in the U.K.”
“First Avenger’s” biggest foreign markets proved to be in Latin America. It brought in $20.6 million from Brazil and $20.2 million from Mexico. The bulk of the rollouts for those markets will come on April 4, the same weekend that “The Winter Soldier” opens in China and Russia.
Another aspect of the “Avengers” effect? The Marvel blockbuster seems to be offsetting any worries that foreign exhibitors’ might have about an anti-American backlash.
When the original came out, Paramount gave overseas distributors the option of calling it “The First Avenger,” rather than “Captain America: The First Avenger.” Only three countries — Russia, Ukraine and South Korea — opted to go with the shorter handle.
Disney’s Hollis said he didn’t have any concerns about that.
“Our regional teams know their markets best, so we defer to their expertise when it comes to titling our films for international territories,” he said.