It’s here! It’s finally here! The long-awaited follow-up to the Marvel Movie that no one ever expected to be their favorite: Ant-Man and The Wasp!!! Back in the summer of 2015, the world was abuzz with the news of a new comic adaptation from Marvel Studios hitting theaters, but no one could understand why anyone would bother to make a movie about a character named Ant-Man. The concept of seeing Paul Rudd as a superhero who can shrink to the size of an ant (as well as control them) seemed absolutely absurd in every way imaginable. Disney must have thought so as well since the advertising was just as nonsensical as the idea. Yet, despite debuting to merely $57 million on opening weekend (which may seem quite large in the grand scheme of the box office, but for a Marvel film, coming out directly after Age of Ultron, thus warranting at least a small box office boost, the film should have opened around $70 million and likely gave Disney quite a scare as it posted the MCU’s second lowest opening ever), Ant-Man managed to generate such strong word-of-mouth that it ended up grossing over 3x times that opening stateside with a domestic gross of $180 million-for comparison, Infinity War, the fourth highest grossing movie of all time has so far only managed to gross a little over 2.5x its opening weekend domestically-and a worldwide gross of $519 million. Critics and audiences alike found themselves surprised and delighted by the wit and inventiveness of this unlikely superhero film, and many were undoubtedly whipped into a frenzy with the announcement of a sequel.
Fast-forward three years and here we are, with Ant-Man and the Wasp flying into theaters to try and steal the hearts of audiences once more. However, Disney might want to batten down the hatches just a little because we’ve got a mix of good news and bad news. Good news: The Ant-Man franchise finds itself in the same place it was three years ago. It’s a July release and it’s the follow-up to an Avengers film. As mentioned above, Avengers: Infinity War is the fourth highest grossing film of all time, and the fourth film to ever pass the $2 billion dollar mark at the worldwide box office. This, along with critics reviews being mostly positive (calling it a fun follow-up to the original, and great palette cleanser after the harrowing end of Infinity War) seem to signal a good opening weekend haul over the next few days. Bad News: The Ant-Man franchise finds itself in the same place it was three years ago, with the sequel looking to post a lower opening than one would expect of a Marvel film post-Infinity War.
Now, that said, Disney is on a roll. The studio is flush with cash and has the room to post an opening lower than expected. It also is worth pointing out that Ant-Man and the Wasp is looking to definitely open bigger than its predecessor. Early tracking for the film was resulting in projections around $75-$77 million, and they have only grown as the release date has gotten closer and closer. This past Thursday, preview screenings were held and the film managed to gross $11.5 million. This is pretty solid, as it not only outperformed the first installment’s $6.4 million Thursday night gross but also outpaced Doctor Strange (sporting $9.4 million in preview money) and Guardians of the Galaxy (which posted $11.2 million). Doctor Strange and the Guardians of the Galaxy films actually serve as wonderful comparisons for the Ant-Man films given their more off-center storylines, snappier humor, and more vibrant visual styles with regard to the rest of the MCU. Coming off their respective Thursday night preview grosses, Doctor Strange managed to pull in $85 million on opening weekend while Guardians Vol.1 posted $94 million, all of which helps to peg Ant-Man & Wasp‘s opening likely somewhere in the $85-$95+million range. This is an opening any film would be lucky to have, but alas, when taking all factors into account, it can’t help but appear low in the grand scheme of the MCU.
The big issue is that Ant-Man & Wasp is being released as the MCU follow-up to Infinity War, a film which the franchise was not only building up to for a decade, but also whose events have resulted in cataclysmic repercussions for the MCU narrative going forward. Whether or not one believes that these repercussions will stay permanent going forward (no spoilers), no one left the theater after seeing Infinity War feeling totally satisfied. The audience wants answers that they aren’t likely to get fully until Avengers 4 is released next May. Thus, it stands to reason that audiences would be much more excited to see the next installment of the MCU in the hopes that some hint of what was coming next may be there. Whether or not there will be any hints is not relevant to this discussion, but the fact is, interest should be higher and driving higher projections. It’s been proven over and over again that generally, MCU films that follow Avengers team-ups get a box office boosts based on interest alone. Iron Man 3 served as the follow-up to the first ever Avengers film and not only added an extra $46 million to its opening weekend for a gross of $174 million, but also became the first over solo Marvel film to gross over $1 billion worldwide. Captain America: Civil War also grossed a billion dollars as the first of the main MCU films to follow Age of Ultron (the original Ant-Man served as the direct follow-up in this case, but likely didn’t get a supercharged opening weekend due to it being a new property for the MCU, though the worldwide gross was certainly boosted compared to previous solo debuts for the main Avengers, topping Thor and Captain America‘s $449 million and $370 million, respectively, and coming within striking distance of Iron Man‘s $585 million), and both Doctor Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 saw more inflated box office following Civil War (basically Avengers 2.5). With all this evidence, the intense interest surrounding the aftermath of Infinity War, and the fact that the first Ant-Man has such a great reputation in the MCU canon, I am surprised to see that projections for Ant-Man & Wasp aren’t looking at it possibly crossing the $100 million mark during opening weekend. Even the trades, which are usually a little bolder in their projections, seem to only be predicting that it peaks at $95 million.
As for “why” of this situation, there are some potential factors. First and foremost, it is the 4th of July Weekend. The movie business is typically quite slow around this holiday given that many take it as a time to go off on vacation, or just stay at home and relax. With the actual 4th of July falling on this past Wednesday, many potential moviegoers may have already left home for the week, which will result in deflated attendance and deflated box office. Another potential factor is an overcrowded summer movie market this week. With Incredibles 2 and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom continuing to battle it out for box office dominance, both stateside and overseas, they could easily eat into Ant-Man & Wasp‘s potential box office (Jurassic World, in particular, will likely prove to be very competitive in the overseas markets while Incredibles will be cannibalizing the Marvel film stateside for a share of the Disney audience).
Then there are the reviews. I mentioned before that the original Ant-Man had stellar reviews and even stronger word-of-mouth. Many found the film fun, inventive, and a breath of fresh air for the Marvel Universe at large, welcoming a movie with smaller stakes that didn’t take itself too seriously. Reviews for the sequel dropped about a week ago, are also quite positive, with many citing the light tone, humor, cast performances. However, many critics are also pointing out story issues with the sequel, some saying it is overstuffed, but with most agreeing that in the wake of the events of Infinity War (that movie is affecting this one in more way that you might realize) it feels lacking in narrative heft. It remains to be seen what audience reaction will be (the cinemascore coming in on Saturday which will help to more fully understand the overall perception of the film), but a narrative seems to be forming around the film that suggests that it is a step down from its predecessor. The final opening weekend tally, as well as the second weekend hold, will tell us if that narrative has fully taken root, but if said narrative manages to get to anyone this weekend, it also could bring down the weekend gross by steering them away from the theaters. All things considered, I see the film (at this moment in time) posting at least $90 million this opening weekend, as I believe the Infinity War follow-up factor is potent and shouldn’t be underestimated, though I won’t rule out the possibility of it climbing higher or dropping lower.
With Ant-Man & Wasp poised to take the top spot this weekend, the rest of the box office (by comparison) has else to say. Look to see Jurassic World and Incredibles 2 continue to duke it out for second place. The trades predict a ~50% drop for Jurassic World for a $29 million gross while Incredibles will likely hold in the lower to mid 40% for a weekend gross around $26-$29 million. It will be a close call for second place at this weekend’s box office, but both movies have a lot to smile about, as Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has just hit a worldwide gross of $1 billion while Incredible 2 will definitely pass the $500 million mark domestically, becoming the first animated movie to achieve this feat and beating out Finding Dory as the highest grossing animated film of all time, stateside.
After opening on July 4th to capitalize on the theming of the franchise, The First Purge still looks to opening with around $35 million over the 5-day weekend, meaning a mid to low $20 million debut over the course of the 3-day weekend. This will likely put it in fourth place, beating out Sicario 2 which is expected to drop around 50% for a $9 million weekend gross, leaving it in fifth. Look for Ocean’s 8 to continue to post the strongest hold in the top ten for the weekend (though it might be a slightly larger drop than usual given the holiday) and expect Won’t You Be My Neighbor? to likely hold on to the tenth spot given its strong word-of-mouth and increase in theater count.
In the specialty market, pay close attention to Sorry to Bother You from Annapurna Pictures. This directorial debut from rapper-turned-director Boots Riley has been a hot title ever since it’s debut at Sundance and will be opening in limited release in 16 theaters. While the Sundance reception was a bit mixed, the film is garnering more and more praise for its wild tone and commentary on race in America. While Annapurna is still learning the ropes of distribution, having newly minted its distribution arm last July with Oscar-hopeful Detroit (which ended up bombing financially after opening in limited release in 20 theaters, just going to show that in limited release, the fewer theaters, the better), Sorry to Bother You has such strong buzz that it will likely still post quite an impressive per-theater-average. If so, expect an audacious awards push from Annapurna. Following a young black man working as a telemarketer (played by the hyper-talented Lakeith Stanfield) who finds greater success as in the business by learning to use his seemingly magically enhanced “White Voice”, Sorry to Bother You is a thoroughly unconvential awards contender. However, one should never underestimate Annapurna, whose founder and head, Megan Ellison, is no stranger to pulling Oscar nominations out of thin air.
(Box office data from BoxOfficeMojo.com and Deadline.com)