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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Ant-Man Box Office, Small is Bountiful

Welcome to Would You Like To Know More, a new category of post where I deal with geek news.  In these articles I’ll be relaying news stories, expanding on announcements and events, explaining obscure nerdy news, and speculating on what’s to come.  With all that said let’s talk about Ant-Man’s box office returns. 
So, the opening returns are in on Ant-Man and while the film is making solid bank and managed to take the #1 spot from Minions it is coming in a bit bellow predictions and has had one of the weakest openings of any Marvel studios film.  Audience reaction seems to be pretty evenly spread across the spectrum with some people like myself really liking the film while others have at best found it forgettably enjoyable and at worst emblematic of Marvel’s bigger issues with diverse representation in their films.  However, Ant-Man’s role in the ongoing ‘Marvel Problem’ is a discussion for a different blog post, for right now I want to talk about the impact of Ant-Man’s more modest success might have on how Marvel produces films and the future of these characters. 

One take away from this opening is that most likely the characters of Ant-Man, Hank Pym, and Hope van Dyne will stay more or less locked into their current depictions.  The box office returns are positive enough and the general fan response has been more or less on board with Paul Rudd’s flustered dad version of Scott Lang, Michael Douglas’ grumpy retired superhero, and Evangeline Lily’s steely passionate hero in waiting as Hope van Dyne.  We already know Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man will be appearing in Captain America 3: Civil War but it’s pretty clear that regardless of Ant-Man’s continued future in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel probably won’t pull an Incredible Hulk and recast the character in a soft reboot somewhere down the line.  

However the more modest income of Ant-Man will probably mean the film is left in a similar limbo to Incredible Hulk as far as follow ups go.  Going strictly by the box office numbers and how much Marvel likes to play things strictly by the numbers the chances of seeing an Ant-Man 2 in the near future seem pretty slim.  Marvel has a habit of inserting unobtrusive loose threads and unanswered mysteries into its films in the hopes of a sequel but not everyone gets the same massive success of Guardians of the Galaxy and I think it’s more than likely that questions like the ultimate fate of Janet van Dyne will end up in the same unanswered dustbin as “did Samuel Stern really become the Leader?” 
That’s just the nature of Marvel’s phase 2 approach to film producing, like how Thor: The Dark World’s low opening led to a serious backing off on Thor: Ragnarok.  Obviously Thor’s intrinsic importance to the Cinematic Universe mega-plot meant that film still had to happen but there’s a reason it’s getting the longest sequel gap for a Marvel film (coming out 4 years after Thor 2.)  That’s something to keep in mind about the Marvel phase spread sheets, that even though Marvel’s film roster seems fairly locked in they’re still more than willing to move stuff around as we saw when the shared Spider-man custody deal was announced.  With that in mind I do think there is one major way Ant-Man could see a sequel in phase 4 or even slotted into phase 3 somewhere later down the line like 2019 or 2020.

What I’m alluding to is the question of cultural impact.  More and more in recent years films have been able to achieve a serious level of success through their ability to craft fan communities more than their box office numbers.  For instance, Pacific Rim was consider a box office disappointment but forged a devoted following that eventually secured a sequel that’s beginning filming later this year, the same way the near instant popularity of Kingsman: Secret Service earned it a sequel.  One of the biggest studios that’s obsessed with dominating the cultural landscape is Marvel’s purse holder’s Disney.  Ever since their return to active production in the late 2000s Disney has been aggressively pursuing cultural capital even over monetarily sound decisions.  From 2012-2015 they green lit films like John Carter, Tomorrowland, and The Lone Ranger simply because they didn’t want a year to go by without a Disney branded film being in theaters.  Even Marvel has been impacted by this, like how the shocking success of the Daredevil Netflix show led to the studio fast tracking a season 2 rather than waiting to pursue their Defenders crossover plans.  With all this in mind I think it’s highly possible that if Ant-Man ends up a major hit culturally, infecting the popular consciousness and making a major imprint on culture beyond the dedicated nerd fan base who were already onboard with the film, then you might see plans for a sequel truly materialize.  

All things considered Ant-Man scoring a cultural victory over a monetary one could actually end up a major turning point for Marvel studios.  So far Marvel has been very ruthless in only green lighting projects guaranteed to pull in well over 100 million dollars and could be described as blockbusters, that’s one of the main reasons so many of their films have begun to run together structurally.  If a movie as anti-blockbuster convention could prove truly resonant with audiences and that said resonance is more valuable than direct monetary reward it could really light a fire under Marvel to start producing more off beat projects. 
The success of Ant-Man and the message that small is bountiful could be the first step in getting Marvel to produce more films with weird and offbeat centers that aren’t guaranteed money makers like that Black Widow film we’re all waiting on.  As it stands however without a major push in week 2 or a major cultural embrace of the characters Ant-Man’s box office is larger enough to sustain the film’s experiment but nowhere near big enough to warrant a sequel.  

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