If creativity is the fuel of a Hollywood franchise success, then ego may be its booster rockets. That’s one of the takeaways from a new interview in Variety with Joe and Anthony Russo, in which the directors recap their nearly decade-long run at Marvel and discuss their plans for the future.
The siblings are now working on their post-Marvel careers as directors on productions for Netflix (the recently released The Gray Man and the upcoming The Electric State), and Amazon (Citadel) under their AGBO production banner. The duo started their Marvel journey by directing 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and ended it by delivering the most lucrative opening weekend of all time via Avengers: Endgame in 2019 at $1.2 billion.
“It will never happen again,” Joe Russo said of the billion-dollar opening. “That was an apex of that era of theatrical filmmaking.”
“Never” may sound like a bold claim, but in the era of streaming movies and their increasing encroachment into territory carved out by traditional movie theaters, repeating such blockbuster revenue will be a challenge.
The Russo brothers have said they don’t plan to return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) anytime soon. But the Marvel machine continues to churn out box office hits like 2022’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love and Thunder. And next week, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, could become one of the highest-earning releases of the year.
MCU is in a bit of a transitional phase now that the Avengers storyline has come to a close. This blip in Marvel’s cohesive narrative could be just what Warner Bros. Discovery and its slate of DC films needs. (Generally, films based on DC comic characters haven’t had the same soaring success of Marvel.)
In the realm of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU)—which doesn’t include Christopher Nolan’s Batman Dark Knight films—the most financially fruitful film has been 2018’s Aquaman, which earned $1.1 billion overall. So far, the DCEU’s biggest opening weekend has been Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which earned $420 million globally (about $520 million in 2022 dollars) during its opening weekend.
When new Warner Bros. Discovery chief David Zaslav canceled the $90 million production of the direct-to-streaming Batgirl movie, there were concerns that the larger DCEU might be in for a rough ride. But in October, when Zaslav tapped James Gunn and Peter Safran to run the studio’s DCEU efforts, those worries largely evaporated. Gunn, known for steering Marvel’s hit Guardians of the Galaxy film franchise, along the well-honed big budget producing talents of Safran, may finally put the DCEU on firmer competitive footing with its comic book rival.
The latest DCEU film, Black Adam, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, has done well, earning $143 million globally during its opening weekend and $255 million overall since its release on Oct. 21. However, the other superhero films currently in development may not reflect the larger plans Gunn and Safran have for the DCEU. Among those plans: Replicating the box office returns of the Marvel Avengers saga.
If there is anyone equipped to disprove the Russo’s claim, it’s James Cameron, director of the most successful film of all time, Avatar, which has earned $2.9 billion since its release in 2009. The film had a $241 million opening (about $335 million adjusted for inflation), a figure that was somewhat boosted by slightly higher ticket prices for the film’s 3D presentations. Still, betting against Cameron isn’t wise, as he is also the director of Titanic, the first film to earn $1 billion at the box office.
The director has taken nearly 13 years to deliver the sequel to Avatar, Avatar: The Way of Water. That’s a long gap, one that potentially threatens to limit the franchise’s future success in theaters. Are moviegoers still eager to visit the world of Pandora and its blue-faced aliens? So far, the answer appears to be resounding yes, as re-release of the original Avatar in September pulled in $30 million during its opening weekend alone.
When Avatar: The Way of Water hits theaters on Dec. 16, presumably free of covid-19 restrictions, Russo’s prediction will likely face its first real challenge.