5 Lessons Studios Should Take From Avengers’ Success

To the surprise of no-one, Marvel’s The Avengers wasn’t just a hit on its opening weekend, but a record-breaking one that made money for not just one studio, but three. If anyone knows anything about the movie industry, this means that we’re likely just minutes away from the announcement of a whole new wave of superhero movies, especially Marvel Comics-related ones. But what should studios be thinking about as they seek to capitalize on Avengers‘ success?

A Little Bit Of Patience Goes A Long Way
Despite not officially being a sequel, let’s be honest: Avengers is pretty much Marvel Movie #6 (or #5, depending on whether or not you want to count the Ed Norton Incredible Hulk). I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think that drove a lot of the movie’s opening weekend success; as good as the movie is, the $200+ opening weekend is as much a result of the audience having been slowly primed for this movie by the teases in preceding Marvel movies as anything else. The first official trailer for the movie may have appeared at the end of last summer’s Captain America: The First Avenger, but unofficially, we’ve been waiting for this movie since Nick Fury showed up at the end of the first Iron Man. There’s always a temptation to lead with your big guns, but the way that Marvel has handled the Avengers franchise is a textbook lesson in how valuable the ability to wait – and to slowly reveal the big picture – can turn out to be.

Character Is Everything
After being essentially cyphers in their first appearances, Black Widow and Hawkeye come out of Avengers as fully-fledged characters, somewhat surprisingly (Or, as fully fledged as the other Avengers, at least). That’s something to thank Joss Whedon for, and it’s a large part of why Avengers works as well as it does: Ultimately, this is a film where the superheroes feel like characters as opposed to action-figure-ready stunt props in colorful outfits, and because of that, the entire thing works as something more than spectacle (The difference between this and, say, Transformers: Dark of The Moon is that, in this movie, you care about whether or not someone dies; in Moon, Shia could’ve been killed multiple times over, and I pretty much would’ve been over it by the time the next action set piece was ready). Sure, superhero stories are often insulted by comparing them to adolescent power fantasies, but the good ones have heart and characters that you can draw yourself onto. That said…

Bigger Isn’t Necessarily Better, But It Helps
Avengers happily embraces the… what, cliches? expectations? of the summer blockbuster movie, offering up widescale carnage, seemingly invincible enemies and unbeatable odds at all the tight moments as well as the character stuff that makes the movie something you wouldn’t mind watching again. It’s that rare balance of the big and the small stuff – the way that you nostalgically remember classic movies like Star Wars or Raiders of The Lost Ark – that is so amazingly valuable. Animated movies tend to understand this mix and the need for both sides of the scale more than live action ones – Perhaps because so much time is spent perfecting the story at the start, and because it’s so “easy” to rework/reanimate if necessary? – so that it’s almost seemed as if live action movies have to tip one way or another for some reason. Avengers, however, refutes that idea and, in many ways, raises the bar for the writing of superhero movies from now on (which is to say: Green Lantern 2, you better raise your game if you happen).

Stick To Your Guns
The Hulk? The Hulk? After two failed attempts to get him to work in movies, suddenly people are loving the idea of a live-action Hulk project again, and it’s all because Marvel didn’t give up on the character. Sure, there’s definitely something to be said for knowing when to give up, but I can’t help but feel there’s also something weirdly admirable about keeping going back to the character with slightly different takes until it clicks because you’re just so convinced that it can work, somehow. Focus testing, shmocus testing.

Choose Your Weapons Carefully
Would an Avengers without Joss Whedon have been big? Of course, there’s absolutely no doubt (See that thing about priming audiences since Iron Man above). But would it have been this big? That’s tougher to predict, and it’s very tempting to say no – While it might’ve had a great opening, I doubt it would’ve had the word of mouth, positive reviews or “legs” that this movie has. The choice of Whedon as screenwriter and director seemed a little dubious at first; yes, he had credibility with the core fanbase and he knew the characters and material, but he also had the relative failures of Serenity (in box office terms) and Dollhouse (in creative terms) under his belt, so… who knew which way things would go? Well, Marvel’s bet was a good one, it turns out, and I’d argue it reflects well on the company that they made it as opposed to going with safer, more studio-friendly options. Going with the right person for the project on creative terms as opposed to business ones – Knowing the character being better than having made a massive action movie hit before – has long been a Marvel Studios trademark, but I’d argue that it has never proven so successful as it does with Avengers. If there’s one lesson that Hollywood learns from this movie’s success, here’s hoping it’s that one.

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Comments

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/2RB63YCVMSOGYBHPGAH2WEX7QU StopRacism

    I think also the fact there’s little profanity and unneccessary sexual inuendos will go a long way as well. While these things wouldn’t impede on the Avengers’ initial success, the long run looks better. Transformers 2 didn’t need to stoop as low as robots calling each other the P-word. It might have been more successful if it had left that type of low brow stuff out. And I loved Transformers as a young man in my 20s. They didn’t need a girl toy to drive my interest. I wanted to see robots transform and tear stuff up. I took my then 7 yr old soon to see Tranformers 2 and was really disgusted. With the Avengers movie…good clean fun. This movie rates a 10+!

  • Elfap

    Agreed, not to mention Banner even mentions when he destroyed Harlem which exactly happen in The Incredible Hulk. Only thing that wasn’t there that should have been was General Ross involvement in The Avengers seeing Tony brought him in.

  • Rayadamson

    I hope the Hollywood suits are aware after the film that actresses don’t always have to be cast in roles for romantic purposes,they can be more than love interest all the time.It’s significant that Scarlett Johannson has made movies with Dan Clowes,Frank Miller and Joss Whedon in her career.How cool  is it that Chris Evans has been in the Avengers and the Fantastic Four now?Would really like Charlize Theron and Karen Gillan to be cast in future Marvel properties.While i congratulate everybody involved with making The Avengers on it’s creative and commercial success,i hope somebody involved with the movie feels it proper to generously reward Jack Kirby’s surviving family, for the sake of his memory. 

  • aicdziu

     That’s exactly what I was going to post when I read this article.  I even noticed my local Regal Cinemas had an all-day marathon the day before Avengers opened, but they left out Incredible Hulk also.  Why?  It might not have been the most well-received of the Marvel movies (but I liked it), but neither was Iron Man 2.

  • coalminds

    The idea of dissecting the success of something that admittedly everyone thought would do extremely well is silly. Also I will ask again that if you guys can’t come up with a number of points to make, you stop trying to come up with some arbitrary number of “points to take away” or “questions to ask”.

  • doktamoox

     My guess is that the Norton film is going to be more or less replaced by the next Hulk film, just as the Norton film replaced the Lee film.  Which is fine by me, as the Norton film just gets worse and worse each time I watch it… but I was never a fan of the Bruce Jones run on the comic book, and find the TV series silly now (though I loved it as a kid).

  • Terrell Rose

     I disagree with your assessment, but that’s your opinion.

    I can easily say that I enjoyed Avengers more than all of those films that you listed. I mean is it technically superior? Not necessarily, but it was way more fun and of all of those films you mentioned it’s the only one I want to see in theaters a second time.

    Inception was good, but I would really only watch it again for the hotel fight scene, which was extremely well done. I don’t care to explore the depths of the film like some other people do or to answer the question if it was all a dream or a reality. I also found some parts of it to be predictable.

    I actually fell asleep during The Fellowship.

    Spider-man does not hold up on repeat viewings. It’s too cheesy.

    The characters in the Matrix weren’t particularly interesting as much as the Matrix itself was.

    I never bothered to watch Watchmen in theaters, but when I did watch some of it on TV, I just didn’t care much for it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=41112805 Jeff Herron

    “Dollhouse” was a failure in creative terms?

  • 0bsessions

    Agreed in this regard. I’m probably not alone in this, but I spent the entire movie keeping how appropriate it would be for my six year old daughter in the back of my mind. I’ll be coming back at least one more time to take her to see it.

  • 0bsessions

    Can’t say I really disagree with the ratings.

    Inception doesn’t hold up to multiple viewings and for your complaints of  “plot holes galore,” it’s swimming in them.

    Fellowship of the Ring is a great movie, but easily the worst of that trilogy and pretty much the entire middle section is a remarkable slog.

    Spider-Man was an entirely meh movie. For it’s day, it was good, but it was extremely overrated.

    The only thing the Matrix has going for it is that it was a relatively interesting concept, but past that it’s one of the worst acted movies I’ve ever seen and it was the film that subjected us to a decade of overused bullet time.

  • A. Holland

    Haha, WHAT?

  • Jim H.

     Are you really complaining that a movie from Marvel Comics starring a slew of Marvel comic book characters, most of whom had their own movies based on Marvel comic book stories, was like a Marvel comic book? What did you want it to be like? The fact that it was literally like being dropped into the pages of a comic book, complete with all the fun and excitement that goes with that, is what people loved about it.

  • Jim H.

    Yeah, I don’t know what he means by that. I’m not even sure how something can be a failure in creative terms. Commercial terms, sure, but not creative.

  • Gin

     I believe he meant a week.

  • Jakk

    A Graeme article i actually AGREE with, more or less? And with intelligent thought and insight put into it? Did some freeze hell over while i was at work or something?