Over the course of the past eleven years and twenty-two films in total as of this date, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has evolved into what seems to be an irreplaceable framework for global storytelling of mythical proportions. From the first MCU film Iron Man (2008) to the newly released Avengers: Endgame the impact of the MCU cannot be understated. From rival studios including Warner Bros with with their DCEU (DC Extended Universe) to Universal’s poorly realized and promptly canceled Dark Universe, the idea of a shared narrative seemed incomprehensible over a short decade ago. Within an industry culture of sequels and trilogies, the MCU was completely transformative in not only creating contained trilogies (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor) but also interwoven stories where on-screen characters share in each others film narratives and we the audience grow continuously invested in the in the focused and broader “universe” narrative. In recognizing the cultural depth of the MCU and in reflecting on audience response to Avengers: Endgame, who said the movie going experience is dead? As the film is projected to gross approximately $350 million domestically in three days, its safe to say that the theatrical experience was and is being avenged.
A deep look:
Within the span of the last ten years, the MCU has been heavily implicated within the debate pertaining to the decline of the theatrical experience or rather the changing landscape of the traditional movie going milieu. Whereas the box-office of the late 90s and early 2000s represented a diverse palette of movie genres of varying budgets, the post Iron Man landscape seemed to indicate a shift in the studio output. With the increasing success of superhero infused movies and importantly Joss Whedon’s The Avengers (2012), the economic model of production and distribution leaned towards “event films with universe potential.” All of this, coupled with the increased access of streaming services, created a perfect storm for the theatrical debate.
Basically, are people still going to the movies?
Yes they are.
With Avengers: Infinity War last spring and Crazy Rich Asians last summer, the movie theatre can still be a viable shared and diverse cultural space. With the right movie, made-well, people will leave the comfort of their streaming service and head to their multiplex.
Specifically, when looking at the gargantuan box-office numbers of this weekend (with a potential $1 billion world wide) of Avengers:Endgame, the film is a reminder that the theatrical experience is fully alive and well. However, it’s vitality depends on the stories being told and the the way in which audiences are invested in in those stories. As evident with Endgame and the multiple screenings I experienced (three screenings at three separate theatres), the film speaks to the magic of experiencing movies like this on the big screen with a collective. Unlike the Netflix experience that is confined to one’s phone, tablet, computer or home television, the big screen and sharing time with strangers in a sold out theatre is truly magical. Sharing in laughter, bewilderment and tears is the magic of movies. It’s a stark reminder that the medium of film if truly universal and that the theatrical experience can never truly be replaced by at-home streaming.
With the right movie, characters and cultural circumstance, the coming together at a local multiplex is not the thing of the past or a reality faded into dust. Far from it. We just need movies, epic in scale or small, that matter.