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The Weekend Movie Takeaway: 'Avengers: Endgame'

April 29, 2019

Well, it was a big weekend for narrative. 

Setting aside for one moment the fact that the country—nay, the world, pretty much—stopped to watch The Battle of Winterfell on Game of Thrones Sunday night, what happened at the box office over the weekend will be felt in storytelling for generations to come. 

Avengers: Endgame, the culmination of sorts to the 22-film Marvel Cinematic Universe that began with 2008’s Iron Man, broke umpteen records in America and around the world, providing the ultimate validation for the grand Marvel movie experiment.

In the US alone, Endgame earned a staggering $350 million—the biggest opening weekend ever by a huge margin. No film has ever even broken the $300 million barrier before, let alone go $50 million over it. It earned $156.7 on opening day alone. 

And that's just the States. Globally, including the U.S., the film earned an utterly unheard of $1.2 billion. That’s billion. With a 'b'. 

The giant haul shattered over one hundred box office records, and set a new standard for global movie reach. Movies are never going to be the same again.

Rival studios have been emulating the Marvel “shared universe” model for some time, generally without much success, however. The two major examples being Universal's Dark Universe, which withered on the vine after 2017's The Mummy proved a giant stinker, and the Warner Bros. DC Extended Universe, which has pulled away from focusing on the shared universe aspects of their superhero films after the failure of Justice League.

But with the figures that Avengers: Endgame is posting, conglomerates all over will be licking their lips and trying to come up with their own shared universes. Although DCEU and Dark Universe exemplify how perilous the method can be, the most encouraging aspect of Endgame's success is that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has always placed a significant emphasis on legitimate storytelling. 

Each individual movie in the MCU has told its own unique story, and although there were always elements present that set up future films, they were never at the cost of the narrative of the film in question. In addition—and most importantly—the films always had ambitions beyond simply setting up future movies. Many of the Marvel movies have broken new narrative ground with stories that had little or nothing to do with the shared universe.

So the principal takeaway from Avengers: Endgame's success should be that if you serve your immediate characters and your narrative first, the rest will fall into place. And audiences love a talking raccoon.

Another notable takeaway from the Endgame-dominated weekend is how much everyone involved stressed the importance of not spoiling the story for those who hadn't yet seen the film. Spoilers are a relatively new issue in mainstream cinema, and it took a few years for audiences (via social media) and the media itself to agree upon a consistent and respectable method for navigating them. The film's co-directors, Anthony and Joe Russo ,implored fans not to spoil the film, citing the hashtag #DontSpoilTheEndgame. With a couple of exceptions, the gargantuan audience for Endgame behaved themselves online regarding spoilers, which speaks to a collective desire to respect the narrative. 

Some people may decry Disney's domination of mass market storytelling, but it remains encouraging that it was the climax of a narrative that got everyone excited for Endgame, not the chance to see a particular action set-piece or costume or setting, which is what used to get audiences excited about films like this.

Now we care most about how the story ends. Which is a win for story.

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