Even more than your average blockbuster superhero title nowadays, Captain Marvel – the twenty-first entry in the mega-sized Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) – comes to the table with a ridiculously wide range of expectations. For some, it’s just the latest in a long list of MCU solo debut movies, with some decent-if-not-great trailers, and an interesting question in how it connects to April’s Avengers: Endgame, but not necessarily a pressing one. For others, it’s a potential billion-dollar grosser in the making, with a strong hook thanks to its female-centric angle, in the vein of the MCU’s Black Panther last February.
Where does the truth lie? I’d expect it’s somewhere in the middle, but we won’t know for sure until March 8 and that’s still quite a bit away. In the meantime, let’s get away from just the vague gut instincts about how well it’ll do, and do some analysis on the potential results.
One of the big benefits of the MCU from the perspective of box office reporting is that there’s just so many movies in the franchise. (In terms of sheer number of entries, only the Bond franchise with 25 movies so far beats the MCU. Bond has been around for over fifty years though, so good luck trying to take all that inflation and changes in opening weekend dynamics over the years into account.) The number of MCU movies means it’s possible to use the data from the preexisting titles to get some ranges about where future ones like Captain Marvel might land on the charts.
Starting from the opening weekend
To start off our analysis, we’re going to look at Box Office Pro’s most recent estimate of Captain Marvel’s opening weekend from Friday. Their number there was of an opening of around $160M. Box Office Pro is a great resource, but no Nostradamus of course (nobody studying the box office is), so it is just their informed prediction, not a guaranteed opening weekend number.
I imagine I’ll get some flack for starting out with this opening weekend estimate for my analysis, but Pro has indicated in their earlier forecasting reports that Captain Marvel’s metrics have been below but relatively close to Black Panther’s, which is consistent with what I’ve seen so far in trailer views and levels of social media response. No, guessing the opening weekend isn’t an exact science – but I’m slightly more confident in guesstimating the opening weekend (since that’s mainly based off of hype and pre-releasing expectations, which can be measured a bit) than any other number.
Figuring out the domestic multiplier
The domestic multiplier shows how much money a movie makes following its opening weekend. It’s calculated by dividing a movie’s final domestic gross by its opening weekend, and is a decent shorthand for figuring out the theatrical longevity of a movie. It’s common for movies to at the very, very minimum double their opening weekend, so it’s important to take the post-opening weekend money into account. Calculating it out, MCU movies have an average domestic multiplier of 2.76:
However, just using the average domestic multiplier here would be a little misleading. If you look at the table above, you’ll notice that out of the thirteen movies with below average multipliers, ten of them are sequels. Out of the seven movies with above average multipliers, only one of them is a sequel (Ant-Man and the Wasp).
Sequels are typically more frontloaded than first entries in a series, and this is pretty consistent across franchises, even ones like the MCU where audiences have grown to trust the overall brand. After all, it makes sense. You’re much more likely to crowd into a theater opening weekend for a movie where you’ve already liked the previous entry. In comparison if it’s something new, even if you’re interested in it, you might err on the side of waiting a bit before seeing the movie. Maybe you first want to see how your friends think of it, for example.
Since Captain Marvel is a first entry movie – and yes, I know it sounds silly calling the twenty-first entry in a franchise a “first” anything, but as I described right before, audiences treat new character movies differently in terms of frontloading – I’m going to use a different metric, the average domestic multiplier for first entry MCU movies. This gives us a first entry multiplier of 2.99:
So 2.99 times the $160M opening weekend prediction gives us a domestic total for Captain Marvel of $478.4M.
Calculating the international numbers
Now it’s time to estimate the international grosses from there. Once again, it’s first things first with calculating the average domestic-to-international multiplier for MCU movies, which turns out to be 1.55:
However, just looking at the overall franchise multiplier mischaracterizes things a bit, since team-up movies (the Avengers films and Civil War) tend to overperform internationally compared to their domestic numbers, in terms of other MCU movies. So let’s take those titles out, which gives you a new domestic-to-international multiplier of 1.48:
So 1.48 times the $478.4M estimated for domestic gives an international number of about $708.0M.
Adding it all up
Together, adding a domestic number of $478.4M and an international number of $708M would give Captain Marvel an estimated final global gross of $1.1864 billion. If it can reach these massive numbers, that would make it only the third superhero origin movie ever to reach a billion dollars, a feat currently reached only by Black Panther and Aquaman.
Now will Captain Marvel reach that high? Who knows for sure. The movie could be terrible (unlikely, considering the MCU can consistently make at minimum semi-decent movies at this point). A Madea Family Funeral, which comes out the weekend before, could become a massive cross-generational hit and make two billion dollars (I kid). Or, the most likely occurrence of all, Captain Marvel does just fine but doesn’t break out as much with the non-MCU faithful as expected (a similar fate to what happened to Ant-Man and the Wasp last year). Still, a billion could be on the table…and we’ll only know for sure when opening weekend comes.