Saturday, May 26, 2012

Is the Avengers movie THIS generation’s Star Wars?

We close out our month long Avengers focus with the above question, not coincidentally exactly 35 years after the opening weekend of Star Wars back in 1977.  The gap in time should be about right, since I’ve always heard that a generation lasts about 40 years.  I don’t know for sure who came up with that number or what it’s based on, but I suspect it has something to do with the length of time the Israelites were wandering around in the desert (see the book of Numbers in the Bible).  For the sake of this discussion, I’m going to take the 35 to 40 year range as valid and proceed.

There’s no denying that Avengers is a box-office phenomenon similar to Star Wars.  According to the IMDb website, the first Star Wars movie raked in $460M+ and is ranked number 4 in a list of the All-Time USA Box office.  While the Avengers movie is currently number 12 and up to $389M+ going into last weekend (UPDATE now at $457M+ going into THIS weekend).  I know you’ve got to factor in inflation and a true comparison would be to devalue our current dollar and compare it with the 1977 dollar’s buying power.  I’m no economist, but to put us in the ballpark let’s try to use comic books as a reference point. In 1977 they were 30 cents and today they’re at least 300 cents.  That’s a 1000% increase.  Okay, that seems a bit extreme – Ah ha, let’s go to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics’ CPI Inflation Calculator instead. Thirty cents in 1977 has the same buying power as $1.14 in 2012 or a $2.99 comic today would’ve cost 79 cents back in 1977. (I think we’re getting gipped here!).   A $3.99 comic would’ve been $1.05! I can tell you if comics had been that expensive when I started I doubt I would have ever started collecting them!  I was getting nearly four times the material for the same money.  COMICS ARE TOO EXPENSIVE TODAY…but that’s a topic for another time.  Let’s plug our movie totals into the calculator…Rats!  It doesn’t take values over 10 million.  Needless to say the Avengers still has a long way to go before it catches up with Star Wars, especially after you adjust for the IMAX and 3D extras that drive up the ticket prices.  Still, it’s not only a nationwide success, but a worldwide one too.

However, sheer box office receipts shouldn’t be the only gage.  One thing that strikes me as similar between the two films is the enthusiasm.  Now, I often see a really good film twice, especially if I have to play catch up to see it with other members of my family, but I’ve seen Avengers FOUR TIMES already (and none of them in IMAX “sniff sniff”).  It hasn’t lost any of its appeal.  Sure the surprises aren’t surprises anymore (Hulk thrashing Loki around like a ragdoll), but I’m looking forward to those scenes now and still enjoying them.  And it’s been a very long time since I’ve seen such a high audience attendance.  There were sellouts all weekend long when it first came out and that’s with the multiple screen showings in each theater.  While it certainly has started to taper off, attendance is still strong three weeks out with people still seeing it for the first time.  I predict that the only movie before Amazing Spider-Man that might overcome it in a single weekend is the Disney-Pixar film Brave (I guess Men-in-Black III has a chance...), but by then Avengers could be approaching Avatar as the top movie of all time (for now).   I’ve told my kids repeatedly (as older people are prone to do) how different theaters are today compared to when I was their age.  You would usually only have a single screen for that movie in a particular theater and the line would run around the block to get ANY tickets for that day, not just the next showing.  There were no ticket sales days in advance, no on-line purchasing, not as many theaters and screens.  I can recall waiting in line outside the Ridge Cinema in Richmond to see Superman: The Movie.  My wife and I did have to wait in line to be seated for a Sunday night Avengers showing, but it was no comparison to the olden days, especially since you  didn’t have your own self entertainment in the palm of your hand, unless it was a paperback book!  Still, trying to get tickets an hour and a half before the next showing and NOT getting in today is quite a rarity.

So, we have sales and enthusiasm, but what keeps people coming in and coming back?  The exciting story of course, along with the great characters, and memorable dialogue.  (“I know that’s a fragment you blithering boobie, but it’s an answer to a question” – Sorry my MSWord editor was making an unreasonable suggestion.)  Who doesn’t know almost every line from the Star Wars films?  And why does everyone know them, because they’ve seen the movies over and over.  Well, I’m getting that way with the Avengers now.  There are so many cool scenes and the script is both funny and efficient.  By my own admission in my Avengers movie review a few weeks back, a lot of the character development for at least Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America took place in the previous films.  However, many, many people are seeing these characters for the first time in the Avengers.  We’ve far surpassed just the fanboy crowd.  It’s a truly magnificent thing to have such a great ensemble cast assembled together.  Now, there are the classic super-cast films like The Great Escape and The Towering Inferno, but I view Star Wars and the Avengers a bit differently – maybe because they’re more focused and balanced and Steve McQueen isn’t stealing the spotlight. 
Another thing the Avengers has going for it that Star Wars had is accessibility and the ability to draw in kids too.  Yes, it’s PG-13, but I even took my six-year old daughter and there was very little need to shield her eyes, since a lot of the violence was more cartoon level and there was no overtly sexual scenes (unlike Dark Shadows – good grief).  I wish more movies would follow that example.  If you can tap into the young audience too, then you’re really imprinting on an entire generation.  I saw Star Wars when I was seven and it must have been a little after the opening weekend, because there wasn’t much of a crowd, but it wasn’t too much after since it preceded my purchase of Star Wars #3 at the 7-11 across from the hospital of my birth.  Of course, the buzz may not have reached its height yet.  I went in with a blank slate, knowing NOTHING about the movie and I was TOTALLY blown away beginning with the first musical note and the opening credits.  Everything changed then from toys to comics to movies.

I guess that’s where the comparison falters a little.  There can never be another Star Wars.  It was the first to hallmark a new age.  But it looks like the Avengers movie is the heir.  It’s neat that Star Wars was the beginning of six films, but the Avengers is the culmination of six films and its saga is really just starting.  What an accomplishment to get those six movies in only four years, compared to the time it took to complete the Star Wars saga.  Time will bear out whether or not it is this generation’s Star Wars, but I think that it could be.

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