Why 'Avengers: Endgame,' 'John Wick 3' And 'Aladdin' Are Towering Over The Competition (Box Office)

'Avengers: Endgame'

'Avengers: Endgame'

Walt Disney and Marvel

Another weekend, another (comparatively) disappointing debut for a seemingly anticipated sequel or remake. Okay, so a $120 million domestic debut for Toy Story 4 isn't exactly a grand tragedy, and a $14 million launch for Child's Play is about what the original snagged (adjusted for inflation) in its $6.58 million domestic debut in 1988. But I'm a little disconcerted at the notion that surprisingly good reviews for both titles didn't really move the needle this weekend. The Orion/United Artists Releasing horror remake still opened on the low end of expectations despite being pretty darn good (and original enough to justify itself), while the Pixar sequel opened well below even conservative guestimates.

As much as it has been tempting to look at the summer thus far and say "Audiences are clearly tired with of remakes and sequels!," it's more complicated than that. Yes, the biggest-grossing (in North America) non-Disney flick this year is Jordan Peele's Us, which earned $175 million domestic from a $71 million debut in spite of being it was an R-rated, original, concept-driven horror flick with a mostly black cast. The year's biggest (thus far) Hollywood global grossers outside of Walt Disney and Universal are Warner Bros.' Detective Pikachu ($425 million) and Fox's Alita: Battle Angel ($405 million), although neither of them qualify as "big hits." But would that it was so simple.

Because here's the other stat of note: The biggest non-Disney movie (not counting China's The Wandering Earth and its $699.8 million global cume) is Universal and DreamWorks Animation's How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, which earned $160 million domestic and $519 million worldwide despite being another of those dreaded "five-years-later" sequel. It did what Pacific Rim: Uprising, Godzilla: King of the Monsters and The LEGO Movie 2 could not. And the biggest summer movies, by far, this season? Well, in North America it's Avengers: Endgame (a sequel), Aladdin (a remake) and John Wick: Chapter 3 (a sequel). Audiences are sick of remakes and sequels, except when they are embracing sequels and remakes.

Marvel's Avengers: Endgame has earned $2.75 billion worldwide, including $834 million domestic, in just two months of theatrical release. Walt Disney's Aladdin, a much-debated and (prior to release) somewhat controversial attempt to turn the 1992 toon into a live-action musical, sits with $810 million worldwide, including $289 million in North America after a month of theatrical play. Oh, and Keanu Reeves' John Wick: Chapter 3, which (Halle Berry cameo notwithstanding) was as straightforward a sequel as you could imagine, has earned more ($289.2 million worldwide and $156 million domestic) than the previous two John Wick movies ($88 million in 2014 and $171 million in 2017) combined. So, I guess sequels and remakes rock?

All of this begs the key question, namely why are those three biggies kicking box office butt, especially (comparatively speaking) in North America while their peers are struggling? Well, I'd argue it's two-fold. First, people actually wanted to see a fourth Avengers movie, they wanted to see a third John Wick movie and they wanted to see a live-action Aladdin (complete with a more ethnically accurate cast and Will Smith as The Genie). Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Dark Phoenix, Men in Black International and Secret Life of Pets 2 struggled (or outright tanked) because audiences didn't want to see them. That may sound simplistic, but it's a key variable.

Audiences were mixed (at best) for Gareth Edwards' well-reviewed Godzilla (it earned $200 million domestic from a $93 million debut), and they mostly disliked X-Men: Apocalypse which in turn only earned slightly more ($544 million in 3-D including $121 million in China) than X-Men: First Class ($346 million without China and in 2-D). Men in Black without Will Smith turned out to be not unlike (lower budgets aside) Independence Day: Resurgence without Will Smith. Secret Life of Pets 2 was an indifferently-received follow-up to a hugely successful animated flick ($368 million domestic and $875 million worldwide) that nobody actually loved. It and Godzilla 2 were cases of "I was just curious the first time."

Ditto, to a certain extent, Toy Story 4 (presumed legs notwithstanding) and Child's Play. Audiences weren't quivering in anticipation over a fourth Woody/Buzz flick, especially after the rather perfect climax of Toy Story 3. Child's Play turned out to be funnier and more clever than feared, but it was mostly sold as if the mere idea of a Child's Play remake was itself incredibly enticing and/or much-desired. Audiences really wanted to see another John Wick movie, because they really liked the first two. They were psyched for the finale to Marvel's "Infinity Saga" after Avengers: Infinity War ended on a super-duper cliffhanger. Film Twitter carped, Disney's strategy of selling Aladdin essentially as "It's Aladdin, what else do you need?" worked.

In essence, these films were able to sell themselves as "Hey, we know you want this, and we're gonna give you plenty of what you want out of it!" Conversely, the likes of Men in Black 4, Dark Phoenix and Godzilla 2 either tried desperately to convince an uninterested moviegoing audience to engage or wrongly assumed that a "Hey, it is what it is and we know you'll want it." campaign would be enough. They either didn't offer anything new (another Toy Story, Godzilla versus monsters you can't name, another retelling of the Phoenix Saga) or offered something new which was considered a downgrade (a weirdly regressive Shaft, Men in Black without Will Smith) from what proceeded.

Beyond "Do audiences actually want to see this?," "Is this giving audiences anything new that they can't get from prior franchise installments on VOD or Blu?" and/or "Is this selling an inferior version of this specific franchise?," Avengers: Endgame, John Wick: Chapter 3 and Aladdin offered exclusive entertainment value. If you wanted top-tier blockbuster fantasy spectacle, Avengers 4, with its "MCU does Lord of the Rings" battle royale, was the biggest and best game in town. If you wanted hard R-rated action and jaw-dropping action sequences and choreography, it was John Wick 3 or nothing. And if you wanted live-action romance, live-action (but not "action") fantasy and family-friendly musical spectacle, Aladdin was the only game in town.

Dark Phoenix, Men in Black 4 and Godzilla 2 paled in comparison to Avengers: Endgame. Even the R-rated jukebox musical Rocketman struggled against Aladdin. As an IMAX-worthy, R-rated, non-fantastical, hard-action and star-driven adventure movie, John Wick 3 was and will be in a league of its own until (the PG-13-rated) Hobbs & Shaw opens in August. If you're a general moviegoer who only goes to the once a month, give-or-take a trip with the kids, your cup has been adequately filled by those "Can get this anywhere else" blockbusters. That they are sequels or remakes is almost beside the point. The pitch was that "This movie is worth your time," not "You liked this franchise back in the day."

Going forward, we'll see if Sony's Spider-Man: Far from Home, Disney's The Lion King, Sony's Once Upon A Time in Hollywood and Universal's Hobbs & Shaw can thrive as "Can't get this anywhere else" theatrical options even compared to their respective IP or franchises amid an otherwise underwhelming (at least for tent poles) summer slate. You can't argue that audiences are tired of sequels and remakes as two sequels and a remake tower high above the competition. The key is offering something audiences want more of and variables that they can't get with competition. I wish that left room for the likes of Booksmart or Late Night, but c'est la vie.

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Another weekend, another (comparatively) disappointing debut for a seemingly anticipated sequel or remake. Okay, so a $120 million domestic debut for Toy Story 4 isn't exactly a grand tragedy, and a $14 million launch for Child's Play is about what the original snagged (adjusted for inflation) in its $6.58 million domestic debut in 1988. But I'm a little disconcerted at the notion that surprisingly good reviews for both titles didn't really move the needle this weekend. The Orion/United Artists Releasing horror remake still opened on the low end of expectations despite being pretty darn good (and original enough to justify itself), while the Pixar sequel opened well below even conservative guestimates.

As much as it has been tempting to look at the summer thus far and say "Audiences are clearly tired with of remakes and sequels!," it's more complicated than that. Yes, the biggest-grossing (in North America) non-Disney flick this year is Jordan Peele's Us, which earned $175 million domestic from a $71 million debut in spite of being it was an R-rated, original, concept-driven horror flick with a mostly black cast. The year's biggest (thus far) Hollywood global grossers outside of Walt Disney and Universal are Warner Bros.' Detective Pikachu ($425 million) and Fox's Alita: Battle Angel ($405 million), although neither of them qualify as "big hits." But would that it was so simple.

Because here's the other stat of note: The biggest non-Disney movie (not counting China's The Wandering Earth and its $699.8 million global cume) is Universal and DreamWorks Animation's How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, which earned $160 million domestic and $519 million worldwide despite being another of those dreaded "five-years-later" sequel. It did what Pacific Rim: Uprising, Godzilla: King of the Monsters and The LEGO Movie 2 could not. And the biggest summer movies, by far, this season? Well, in North America it's Avengers: Endgame (a sequel), Aladdin (a remake) and John Wick: Chapter 3 (a sequel). Audiences are sick of remakes and sequels, except when they are embracing sequels and remakes.

Marvel's Avengers: Endgame has earned $2.75 billion worldwide, including $834 million domestic, in just two months of theatrical release. Walt Disney's Aladdin, a much-debated and (prior to release) somewhat controversial attempt to turn the 1992 toon into a live-action musical, sits with $810 million worldwide, including $289 million in North America after a month of theatrical play. Oh, and Keanu Reeves' John Wick: Chapter 3, which (Halle Berry cameo notwithstanding) was as straightforward a sequel as you could imagine, has earned more ($289.2 million worldwide and $156 million domestic) than the previous two John Wick movies ($88 million in 2014 and $171 million in 2017) combined. So, I guess sequels and remakes rock?

All of this begs the key question, namely why are those three biggies kicking box office butt, especially (comparatively speaking) in North America while their peers are struggling? Well, I'd argue it's two-fold. First, people actually wanted to see a fourth Avengers movie, they wanted to see a third John Wick movie and they wanted to see a live-action Aladdin (complete with a more ethnically accurate cast and Will Smith as The Genie). Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Dark Phoenix, Men in Black International and Secret Life of Pets 2 struggled (or outright tanked) because audiences didn't want to see them. That may sound simplistic, but it's a key variable.

Audiences were mixed (at best) for Gareth Edwards' well-reviewed Godzilla (it earned $200 million domestic from a $93 million debut), and they mostly disliked X-Men: Apocalypse which in turn only earned slightly more ($544 million in 3-D including $121 million in China) than X-Men: First Class ($346 million without China and in 2-D). Men in Black without Will Smith turned out to be not unlike (lower budgets aside) Independence Day: Resurgence without Will Smith. Secret Life of Pets 2 was an indifferently-received follow-up to a hugely successful animated flick ($368 million domestic and $875 million worldwide) that nobody actually loved. It and Godzilla 2 were cases of "I was just curious the first time."

Ditto, to a certain extent, Toy Story 4 (presumed legs notwithstanding) and Child's Play. Audiences weren't quivering in anticipation over a fourth Woody/Buzz flick, especially after the rather perfect climax of Toy Story 3. Child's Play turned out to be funnier and more clever than feared, but it was mostly sold as if the mere idea of a Child's Play remake was itself incredibly enticing and/or much-desired. Audiences really wanted to see another John Wick movie, because they really liked the first two. They were psyched for the finale to Marvel's "Infinity Saga" after Avengers: Infinity War ended on a super-duper cliffhanger. Film Twitter carped, Disney's strategy of selling Aladdin essentially as "It's Aladdin, what else do you need?" worked.

In essence, these films were able to sell themselves as "Hey, we know you want this, and we're gonna give you plenty of what you want out of it!" Conversely, the likes of Men in Black 4, Dark Phoenix and Godzilla 2 either tried desperately to convince an uninterested moviegoing audience to engage or wrongly assumed that a "Hey, it is what it is and we know you'll want it." campaign would be enough. They either didn't offer anything new (another Toy Story, Godzilla versus monsters you can't name, another retelling of the Phoenix Saga) or offered something new which was considered a downgrade (a weirdly regressive Shaft, Men in Black without Will Smith) from what proceeded.

Beyond "Do audiences actually want to see this?," "Is this giving audiences anything new that they can't get from prior franchise installments on VOD or Blu?" and/or "Is this selling an inferior version of this specific franchise?," Avengers: Endgame, John Wick: Chapter 3 and Aladdin offered exclusive entertainment value. If you wanted top-tier blockbuster fantasy spectacle, Avengers 4, with its "MCU does Lord of the Rings" battle royale, was the biggest and best game in town. If you wanted hard R-rated action and jaw-dropping action sequences and choreography, it was John Wick 3 or nothing. And if you wanted live-action romance, live-action (but not "action") fantasy and family-friendly musical spectacle, Aladdin was the only game in town.

Dark Phoenix, Men in Black 4 and Godzilla 2 paled in comparison to Avengers: Endgame. Even the R-rated jukebox musical Rocketman struggled against Aladdin. As an IMAX-worthy, R-rated, non-fantastical, hard-action and star-driven adventure movie, John Wick 3 was and will be in a league of its own until (the PG-13-rated) Hobbs & Shaw opens in August. If you're a general moviegoer who only goes to the once a month, give-or-take a trip with the kids, your cup has been adequately filled by those "Can get this anywhere else" blockbusters. That they are sequels or remakes is almost beside the point. The pitch was that "This movie is worth your time," not "You liked this franchise back in the day."

Going forward, we'll see if Sony's Spider-Man: Far from Home, Disney's The Lion King, Sony's Once Upon A Time in Hollywood and Universal's Hobbs & Shaw can thrive as "Can't get this anywhere else" theatrical options even compared to their respective IP or franchises amid an otherwise underwhelming (at least for tent poles) summer slate. You can't argue that audiences are tired of sequels and remakes as two sequels and a remake tower high above the competition. The key is offering something audiences want more of and variables that they can't get with competition. I wish that left room for the likes of Booksmart or Late Night, but c'est la vie.

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I've studied the film industry, both academically and informally, and with an emphasis in box office analysis, for nearly 30 years. I have extensively written about all

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