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Avengers: Endgame finally passes Avatar as the biggest movie of all time

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Ahead of Marvel Studios rolling into Phase 4

Photo: Film Frame / Marvel Studios

Just over a month ago, Avengers: Endgame fans conceded defeat to James Cameron’s 2009 Avatar, acknowledging it would remain the biggest movie of all time. Last night at San Diego Comic-Con, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige announced that’s no longer true.

Endgame, the culmination of a 22-movie arc started by Marvel in 2008, will officially surpass Avatar as the highest grossing movie of all time either today or tomorrow. There is an approximate $500,000 difference between Endgame and Avatar, which analysts predict will close within a day. It’s why Feige could make the announcement he did at Comic-Con.

“Thanks to you, Avengers: Endgame is the biggest film of all-time,” Feige said on stage.

Disney and Marvel Studios have been gunning for the top spot, which has been held by Cameron and 20th Century Fox (now a Disney property) for a decade. The company released a different version of Endgame in theaters on June 28th to help draw in audiences once again, promising a deleted scene (one that underwhelmed fans), a Stan Lee tribute, and an official post-credits scene. Disney and Marvel essentially sold theatergoers extras that would usually appear on the Blu-ray release, in the hope that that would be enough to drive people back into the theater one more time to put the film over the edge.

“At that time, Endgame was $37M from toppling Avatar, and many — both Disney insiders and rival distribution sources — didn’t believe the re-release would put the superhero pic over the top; Endgame‘s foreign territories outside China and the U.S. were quite short when compared to those of Avatar,” Deadline’s Anthony D’Alessandro wrote.

Most of the $37 million is believed to have come from offshore markets, according to Deadline, but there was a real campaign in the US to make Endgame the biggest movie of all time. (Endgame is the top movie now, but that could change due to inflation.) People on popular Marvel subreddits were organizing watch parties and encouraging their friends to go out and buy another ticket. In 2010, Den of Geek’s Simon Brew noted that fans were forced to care about box office numbers — something that up until semi-recently was largely a conversation among trades, analysts, and people who made the actual thing — because box office success translated to continuation. That’s not true with Endgame, though.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is already too big for Disney to suddenly worry about whether Endgame is the biggest movie of all time or the second. This isn’t a suffering independent film. Marvel’s time at Hall H last night was a reminder that, over the next three years, Disney’s superhero division is set to dominate both theatrical and streaming worlds. The message that Feige sent was simple: We own it all. Why bother competing? In many ways, it’s similar to the message Disney sent in its open and shameless attempt to surpass Avatar. It’s not success driven by shareholder concerns; Endgame already did what it was supposed to. This was success driven by ego. The brilliant move was looping in fans to make it seem like their success.

“A huge congratulations to the Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios teams, and thank you to the fans around the world who lifted Avengers: Endgame to these historic heights,” Disney chairman Alan Horn added in a statement to Deadline.

Endgame became more than a singular movie because Marvel Studios, which leans on making fans feel like their part-time investors in the franchise, made it feel like more than just a franchise film to fans. Marvel Studios is about to do the same thing with Disney+, Disney’s upcoming streaming service. Fans will spend $7 a month to keep up with their favorite superheroes, and an additional $15 at the movie theater — not one, not twice, but several times. Endgame became a new stepping point for Marvel. They couldn’t just be good, they had to be the best. They couldn’t just win, they had to dominate.

“The Marvel fans’ desire to unseat Avatar as the top grossing film of all time is ultimately an attempt to help one of the largest corporations on this planet squeeze more money from fans and provide more value for stockholders,” Cameron Kunzelman wrote at Polygon. “It is an endeavor to strengthen a titan of entertainment that is already so swollen and dominant that some are calling for it to be broken up.”

Disney nor Marvel Studios are being broken up. They’re only getting bigger. And, as Feige basically pointed out at Comic-Con, it’s up to fans to help them stay that way.