'The Avengers' sets weekend record. Is there a message for the industry?

Hollywood is welcoming the success of 'The Avengers' – a formula blockbuster with a simple good-vs.-evil story line – but industry analysts aren't ready to draw too many conclusions.

Zade Rosenthal/Disney/AP
Chris Hemsworth portrays Thor (l.) and Chris Evans portrays Captain America in a scene from 'The Avengers.'

After last year’s worst-since-1995 box office for the movie industry, the record-setting opening this weekend for “The Avengers” – $200.3 million at theaters in the US and Canada – was welcome news for the industry, suggesting a strong turnaround heading into the summer season.

Does the initial success of this formula blockbuster, which also flipped the conventional pattern of opening first in the United States and then globally, portend any emerging trend in Hollywood offerings for moviegoers in the foreseeable future?

For sure, “The Avengers” promises to be a huge plus for Disney, which had been financially tottering of late after the huge disappointment of John Carter, another all-star extravaganza, and has put them on solid financial ground, possibly for years.

But it’s not yet clear whether “The Avengers” success in opening first overseas – it garnered $441 million last week – is a harbinger for more simple, good-vs.-evil story lines that translate easily to different cultures and languages.

“Opening overseas is a growing trend and part of an important one in understanding “The Avengers” phenomenon – in an era of globalization, international markets are more important than ever,” says Peter Lehman, director of the Center for Film, Media and Popular Culture at Arizona State University. “But based upon film history,” he says vie e-mail, “I would caution that we should be careful about predicting the future based upon the success of any single film. Many Hollywood action films will open overseas and not be blockbusters or even big hits.”

Chris Lanier, owner of Motion Picture Intelligencer, a cinema consulting service, also cautions it’s important to weigh box office next to what was spent on a movie, noting that the film reportedly cost $200 million to make.

“It doesn’t mean you’ve become profitable because you’ve come out of the gate fast,” he says, adding that 52 percent of the three-day opening resulted from higher-priced IMAX and 3D tickets. “This is a movie in which much can be discerned only by waiting,” he says. “We’re not even to the first turn yet. It’s too early to go out and buy stock.”

With those caveats out, industry analysts do seem ready to uncork the bubbly.

“I’m really excited that this is giving a huge boost to the summer season, just ahead,” says Paul Dergarabedian, head box office analyst for Hollywood.com. Rattling off a string of potential blockbusters that include “Dark Shadows,” “Battleship,” “Men in Black 3”  “Madagascar 2,” “Ice Age” and “The Amazing Spiderman,” he says “this alignment is as rare as a 100-year flood.”

Other analysts say the success of “The Avengers” has several earmarks of our times, when the really appealing, cross-generational movies are often related to cartoons, more than the real-life-based events of past family-genre must-sees like “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Patton,” and “Gone with the Wind.”

“The Avengers is doing huge box-office because it operates as myth,” says Dr. Ben Agger, director of the Sociology Department’s Center for Theory at the University of Texas, Arlington. “A heterogeneous group of superheroes save the world from an alien Other. We want someone larger than life to make us safe. In dangerous times, the Hulk and his buddies are more benevolent than any government.”

Bradley Ricca, a SAGES Fellow at Case Western Reserve University who teaches classes on comic books and popular culture, thinks “the real message of ‘The Avengers’ to foreign audiences is really anything but simple.”

“If anything, Avengers is sort of a second-generation 9/11 movie. The aliens attack, but it is ... a rich capitalist, a Norse god, a Russian spy, an American black ops assassin, a lost scientist, and a World War II-era hero who defend New York (and by extension, the world), not the US government,” he says.

“In fact, just as it seems that all hope is lost, the shadowy 'Council'  launches a nuclear strike on Midtown,” he continues. “Thus, some foreign (and even domestic) audiences can simultaneously root against a cruel, authoritative government, while at the same time keep on rooting for ‘The Avengers’ as they push back invaders with unpronounceable names who are led by a pagan god.”

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