Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame movie has made history in more ways than most people realise. By its second weekend, only 11 days after its launch, it had surpassed the $2 billion (R28bn) mark in ticket sales, and it’s on track to becoming the highest-grossing movie of all time, a position held by Avatar for nearly 10 years.
Avengers: Endgame is the culmination of a series of 22 movies over the past 11 years, collectively known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), all depicting characters from Marvel’s successful comic books.
Never before has there been such a successful cinematic universe comprising so many characters in a multitude of independent-yet-related movies. The real genius is how so many independent movies, all with their own plots and themes, were meshed together into a single overarching story-line.
The MCU is a testament to brilliant screenwriting. It was no easy task to write stories true to the comic books, both engaging and entertaining, while at the same time fitting well into the larger storyline of the other movies.
The writers had to be careful to ensure that they avoided major plot holes between the movies as well as discrepancies in the time lines, which stretched from World War II to five years into the future.
Great screenwriting, coupled with wonderful movie-making complete with A-grade actors, mind-blowing computer graphics and over-the-top action scenes, produced some of the most successful movies of all time.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe garnered a global fan base of millions, a large portion of whom had never read a single Marvel comic in their lives, yet became loyal fans of the likes of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk.
The Marvel formula worked like a charm, and the movies went on to gross a whopping $22 billion in global ticket sales, not to mention merchandise and other revenue.
The phenomenal success of the Marvel movies actually had a somewhat unexpected side-effect: they staunched a major technology trend that was threatening to put the movie industry out of business.
Since 2002, cinema ticket sales have been gradually dropping, with 2017 marking a three-year low with the lowest sales since 1995. Things were bad and getting worse.
Many people cited streaming services as the main threat to the industry, which was largely correct. Ever since services like Netflix launched, not just the movie industry but also television stations have been losing market share.
It is not hard to see why. Services like Netflix provide a completely customised user experience. You can watch what you want, when you want it. No longer do you have to schedule your life around someone else’s programming.
This type of service has clicked particularly well with the younger generations, who have no defined boundaries as far as work and leisure time go.
Everything is fluid, and they pretty much define what they do, and when and where they do it. These “digital natives”, as they are referred to, are most creative and productive that way.
To expect them to sit around waiting for their favourite television shows to start is simply out of the question. They would rather miss out than wait.
This is where streaming services like Netflix and YouTube scored, because they allow complete flexibility. Not only that, but they allow viewing on pretty much any device: computers, tablet PCs and even cellphones.
It’s no wonder streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu are growing at an incredible rate, with more services from Disney and Apple on the horizon.
This was not good news for the movie industry.
Then, in 2018, Marvel released Black Panther, which made $1.2bn globally and almost single-handedly reversed the fortunes of the industry.
Ticket sales numbers went up 4.2%, and overall revenue from the sales went up 6.8%. This was despite the fact that ticket prices were the highest ever, at $9.14 a ticket. Suddenly things were looking up.
Black Panther was followed by a series of remarkably good movies from the MCU, which ensured people kept coming back to the theatres, and kept spending their money.
Marvel also used a rather clever trick to keep people coming back: the end credit scenes.
These scenes, which appeared in the credits after the end of the movies, were a stroke of genius. They were usually full of cameos from characters in other Marvel movies, but also teased of events in future movies. They were essentially trailers for future movies.
These became a fan favourite, and lengthy discussions ensued about what they meant and what was in store in the future.
Marvel and Disney made a fortune on the cinematic universe they created, and in their success is an inspiring lesson: at the worst of times, when not just your company but your entire industry is in danger of going out of business thanks to new trends and new technologies, it is possible to change the tides.
All you need to do is to focus on creating great-quality products.
* Bilal Kathrada is an educational technologist, speaker, author, newspaper columnist and entrepreneur. He is the founder of CompuKids, a start-up that teaches children Computer Science skills. Bilal blogs at www.bilalkat.com.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.