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‘Avengers: Endgame’ is Coming for James Cameron’s Crown

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is about to become the new King of the World.
Marvel Studios
By  · Published on May 6th, 2019

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is about to take over as ruler of the box office realm. James Cameron has held the throne in this game for more than 20 years. In March 1998, a few weeks before the movie won Best Picture at the Academy Awards, Titanic became the highest-grossing release worldwide when it also became the first movie to pass $1 billion. Twelve years later, Cameron usurped himself when Avatar took over as global champion in January 2010. Now, with less than a decade passed, Avengers: Endgame is about to win that crown. It took only two weeks for it to pass what Titanic made in almost a year and what Avatar had taken a month to surpass to become king of the world. The MCU “finale” is the 11th movie to have this honor, previously held by such titles as The Birth of a Nation, Gone with the Wind, The Sound of Music, The Godfather, Jaws, Star Wars, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and Jurassic Park.

Of course, most of those movies still reign in the all-time domestic box office game of thrones, and there’s always going to be an issue when considering the true champions at home and abroad. Domestically, we can always account for inflation or, better yet, ticket sales when ranking the rightful rule of the North American box office. But the foreign box office isn’t so easily scrutinized. Different kinds of currencies and their values, growing markets… there are a variety of factors that make it difficult to determine if movies are truly making more money in certain places around the world, but regardless, the audience size keeps growing anyway in many areas. That growth could slow down someday; otherwise, the global box office will always be on the rise. That means Endgame will be replaced eventually, it’s only a matter of time. Perhaps as soon as Avatar 2 by 2021’s end?

Ironically, it’ll be Disney just passing itself now. The studio went after the global throne with other Avengers installments and a couple of Star Wars movies, but they didn’t own the top spot until they acquired Fox this year. Now Avatar is Disney-owned, and so while Endgame overtaking Paramount (the studio behind Titanic) is a special victory all its own, when the Marvel movie unseats Avatar, it’ll just be the House of Mouse taking over its own territory. Of course, Disney will have reason to celebrate the fact that this will be the first time they’re earning the spot as it’s occurring. Or at least since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which may have very briefly held the throne 80 years ago. If and when Avatar 2 — or another of the many planned Avatar sequels or maybe even Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker — takes the throne next, it’ll still be Disney’s to own.

At the moment, 72 percent of the total global gross of Endgame is coming from foreign markets. That’s a balance similar to Avatar‘s final ratio. But when you look at the domestic portion of both movies, they fall short of being king of the North American continent. Right now, Endgame is in ninth place on the domestic chart, unadjusted, still behind not just Avatar but also Titanic, Jurassic World, Black Panther, the first Avengers, Avengers: Infinity War, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the last of which currently tops the list. Endgame is on track to take that spot, too, however. The Marvel movie broke The Force Awakens‘ record for the best domestic debut when it opened late last month, and while the Star Wars sequel still holds the spot for the best second-weekend domestic box office of all time (Endgame is second), Endgame is still ahead of that movie when we compare them at their 10th days of release. Even with an adjustment made for inflation; or when looking at attendance, which is at 69 million for Endgame versus 62.1 million for The Force Awakens during the same period.

Speaking of inflation, Endgame is currently only in 42nd place on the domestic chart with that adjustment made. Nothing will ever top those classic champions, most of which are the same early worldwide box office rulers, such as Gone with the Wind and the original Star Wars. But the movie could wind up in the top 10 there, supplanting Disney’s own Snow White. That would make it the first 21st-century release to sell enough tickets to reach such distinction. Titanic is currently the most recent title in that arena, holding at fifth place with a domestic total of 135.5 million tickets sold. That equates to an inflated gross of $1.2 billion, by the way, and when we add that to its then-foreign gross of $1.5 billion, Titanic is still ahead of Endgame with at least $2.7 billion. And Avatar is up to $2.9 million. If we consider the inflated grosses for at least the domestic portion, Endgame, which is currently at $2.2 billion, needs at least $800 million rather than just the $600 million it appears to require for the lead. Either way, the number will be reached, probably by its third weekend.

Here are the top 10 highest-grossing movies of all time worldwide with the domestic totals adjusted for inflation:

1. Avatar — $2.9 billion
2. Titanic — $2.7 billion
3. Avengers: Endgame — $2.2 billion
4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens — $2.1 billion
5. Avengers: Infinity War — $2 billion
6. Jurassic World — $1.7 billion
7. The Avengers — $1.6 billion
8. Furious 7 — $1.5 billion
9. Avengers: Age of Ultron — $1.43 billion
10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 — $1.39 billion

One thing that Endgame need if it becomes the new global box office champ is at least a Best Picture nomination. Currently, three of the top 10 highest-grossing movies worldwide are Oscar nominees in that category: Black Panther, Titanic, and Avatar. And Titanic won the award. Until Endgame passed Titanic, the number one and number two movies were Oscar-caliber hits. Many fans think Endgame should and could at least become a nominee. This would be Marvel’s second time in contention, and a lot of people have likened the epic concluding aspect of the MCU installment to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which closed out the LOTR trilogy, became the third Best Picture nominee among them and actually wound up finally winning the honor for the franchise. Endgame being nominated for and maybe even winning Best Picture would be Hollywood recognizing the achievement of the entire MCU, really, and the industry and the fans would surely be okay with that.

Here are the weekend’s estimated top 12 domestic release titles by the number of tickets sold with new and newly wide titles in bold and totals in parentheses:

1. Avengers: Endgame — 16.4 million (69 million)
2. The Intruder – 1.2 million (1.2 million)
3. Long Shot — 1.1 million (1.1 million)
4. UglyDolls — 1 million (1 million)
5. Captain Marvel – 0.5 million (46.7 million)
6. Breakthrough — 0.43 million (3.7 million)
7. The Curse of La Llorona — 0.41 million (5.4 million)
8. Shazam! — 0.3 million (15 million)
9. Dumbo – 0.17 million (12.2 million)
10. Little — 0.16 million (4.3 million)
11. El Chicano — 0.08 million (0.1 million)
12. Pet Sematary — 0.06 million (6 million)

All non-forecast box office figures via Box Office Mojo.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.