Every year there are a couple of movies that you know from the start are going to dominate the pop culture conversation. Big budget blockbusters that have fans clinging onto the edge of their seat for any piece of trailer, poster or blu-ray set photo they can get their hands on in the months leading up to the release. These cinematic heavyweight shows are always an event, but there may never have been a championship match of this calibre in modern cinema. 2015 hosts two of the biggest franchises going around. In April we get the sequel to the billion dollar comic readers wet dream The Avengers in Age of Ultron, and then in December we get one of the most historic film franchises returning to the big screen in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But in this clash of titanic proportions, who is going to win? Well Disney of course, who are the helm of both. But aside from Mickey Mouse being able to afford a new theme park, which movie is going to reign supreme in 2015?
In the red corner is the might of The Force. Star Wars is no stranger to topping the box office. Four of the six films in the franchise has earned the title of top grossing film of their respective years. Episodes I, IV, V and VI were all top of their charts in a legacy that spans decades and generations. The hype surrounding this movie is immense, the moment the teaser trailer dropped it was shared across all corners of social media and took up gigabytes of online articles, parody trailers, response videos across the internet.
Those two movies that didn’t earn top grossing honours though? They were the last two, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. They still raked in the cash, but neither matched the numbers Episode I drew, which sits in 16th spot for all time gross. The most obvious explanation as to the drop in numbers is the overall quality of the Prequel Trilogy. The prequels are derided between long time fans, and especially after Attack of the Clones the excitement around the cinematic experience would have dulled. The effects can still be felt with some expressing concern over a third trilogy. But it is no longer Lucas at the helm, but instead the might of the Disney Empire. Considering the price they paid for Star Wars, there is no doubt Disney will be looking to begin the new era with a bang.
In the blue corner we have the highest grossing non-James-Cameron movie of all time. The Avengers was more than just a movie, it was a proof of concept. The amalgamation of some of the biggest heroes in comic history joining forces for the first time on the big screen, and coming together in a fun and exciting blockbuster. The reception for the ambitious project was overwhelmingly positive, and Marvel are riding off of the success of the surprise hit Guardians of the Galaxy from last year, and an excellent Captain America Sequel. Marvel are entering Age of Ultron at the top of their game, and not only is the entire Avengers lineup coming back together, they’re doing so with Geek God Joss Wheedon in charge.
It’s unlikely Avengers will remain at the third spot in box office gross, because come April its sequel will almost undoubtedly take over. Marvel has enjoyed a sizeable increase in worldwide box office grossing for every sequel they’ve produced so far. For comparisons sake, here are the numbers in millions:
Iron Man: $583.2
Iron Man 2: $623.9 (6.98% increase)
Iron Man 3: $1,215.4 (94.81% increase)
Captain America: $370.6
Captain America 2: $714.8 (92.88% increase)
Thor 2: $644.8 (43.51% increase)
That means on average there is a 59.54% increase on every sequel to a Marvel Cinematic Universe film (providing my high school mathematics hasn’t failed me – it very well may have). This is including the comparatively minor increase earned between Iron Man and its first sequel. For fun, I chucked that average increase onto the numbers the first Avengers movie did, and mathematics predicts that Age of Ultron will earn a world wide box office of a whopping $2.43 billion, which would be enough to surpass Titanic and sit in 2nd all time.
Of course this is by no means a completely accurate prediction. The big factor will be how many new fans can Avengers draw who didn’t go to see the first in cinemas, and if that number lines up with the increased audience for the solo films. But given just how big the Marvel Cinematic Universe is right now, with two strong movies from last year on its back and the news that Spiderman will be in future movies, the prominence of the MCU has never been higher. And to be following that up with the sequel to the biggest movie in recent years equals nothing but ludicrous amounts of money. Only world wide disaster will stop Age of Ultron from raking in at least a billion at the box office, and it hard to believe it won’t do more than its predecessor. The only question is how much more?
We can’t quite use the same theory when looking at Star Wars. Of the six only Phantom Menace raked in over a billion worldwide, but the original three came out back when movie tickets were far cheaper and there were less people in the world to even go see them. As mentioned four of the six movies have reached the top of the box office in their respective years, although none had to go up against a fellow juggernaut like Avengers. The original Star Wars did enjoy some time as the highest grossing movie of all time until Lucas’ pal Spielberg came along with E.T in 1983 (a reign that lasted a decade until another Spielberg movie overtook it in Jurassic Park…which also has a movie coming out this year…just saying).
Here is where it gets interesting. We accept that the numbers of earlier movies like Star Wars are negatively skewed because of the above reasons. Going by the Guinness World Records, if you adjusted for inflation the original Star Wars movie would have earned $2.8 billion dollars, not only putting it above any of the Marvel movies released, but also ahead of the theoretical Age of Ultron numbers. Calculations from other sources aren’t quite as generous though, with figures between 2.2-2.6 billion. It is difficult to properly account for inflation, but it gives us an idea as to the kind of numbers these historical classics did comparitavely to the modern era. Weighing up the speculative numbers against the hard data we can work with, and victory is still up for grabs.
Of course, straight box office numbers are only half the battle. Even more important in analysing the impact these movies have on the pop culture spectrum is the kind of attention the movies get. Both drew massive viewership numbers for their respective trailers, and both dominated the discussion in the following days of their release. Far more is known about Age of Ultron at this stage, Disney has been decidedly silent on details surrounding The Force Awakens, but the movie also comes out a full 8 months later.
The original thought was to compare the trailer views on Youtube from their primary sources, but given the nature of video sharing online, views for the trailers are horribly spaced as the trailer is hosted across countless accounts and websites. Age of Ultron has also enjoyed multiple trailer releases, both teaser and full theatricals as well as ‘spots’, compared to the single teaser trailer for Star Wars Episode VII. The closest comparison can be made between the two hosted teaser trailer videos with the highest viewcounts. Age of Ultron (hosted on the Marvel Entertainment account) as of the writing of this article has 67.38 million views, while Force Awakens (via MovieClips trailers) has 56.85 million. The numbers for the Force Awakens is not a fair assessment though, as the numbers spread seems more noticable compared to Age of Ultron. Multiple alternate hosted videos have views at over 10 million views, so any numerical comparions between the trailers is a minor account at best.
As a small aside, it is interesting to note that the fifth most searched ‘who is’ in Australia for 2014 was none other than the titular character and main antagonist for the Avengers movie, Ultron. He however wasn’t able to beat out Redfoo or Jesus, who have been competing for the top spot for a couple of years now (There is some really interesting stuff that can be found by searching on Google Trends if you’re curious).
It is purely speculation right now. Both movies are hyped to a nearly absurd degree and the hype is only going to grow as we near each movie’s release. Avengers certainly has the recent history on its side, but while the last two Star Wars movies have arguably underperformed at the box office, I think it is important to take note of the numbers Phantom Menace pulled in. Before that was released, there was no disappointing prequel trilogy to sour our tastes on the movie franchise, and it was the first taste for a new Star Wars movie in over sixteen years. When Phantom Menace came out it became the second highest grossing movie in history behind Titanic, doing so just before a boom of sorts in box office intake that occurred in the 2000’s.
It will have been ten years since Revenge of the Sith came out, and since then we have had a complete overhaul with Lucas selling the franchise to Disney. Even with the prequels, fans are ready for another Star Wars movie and a fresh start of sorts. Considering Phantom Menace on its first release came just shy of the billion dollar mark (later surpassing that with the 3D rerelease) Force Awakens is doing over a billion at the box office this year. That is more or less a certainty. It won’t be the first year to have multiple billion dollar movies (in fact, 2014 was the first year since 2009 that there wasn’t two movies with over a billion, and Avatar did enough that year for two movies). But there may not have been two movies with as much of a case to be the champion as there has been with these two. Either movie could end up as the third highest grossing movie of all time at the end of it. Titanic might even be in danger, although it will take an incredible feat for either to match Avatar right now.
Talking strictly about 2015, the thing that might undo The Force Awakens is the fact it releases December 18, and may lose some viewership to 2016. But both movies are coming out in 3D which means the playing field is leveled in that regard. Which movie am I personally more excited for? It has to be Star Wars. I remember watching the Holy Trilogy countless times as a child, and as great as The Avengers was I actually prefer Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy to it. Which movie do I think will reign supreme at the end of the year? That question is brutal, but if I have to guess I am going to say Age of Ultron. The Star Wars franchise is as historic and notable to cinema as any other, but we live in the Hollywood age of the Superhero. Star Wars has as many, if not more die hard fans than the entirety of the Avengers, but I sense the casual movie going public is more invested in the MCU. And that may be the difference maker. Either way, Disney will win 2015.
(All Box Office numbers taken from Boxofficemojo.com)