Avengers: Endgame and Star Wars: Episode IX will be two of 2019's biggest box office hits, but Earth's Mightiest has the (slight) advantage to earn more. If one ever needed further evidence of Disney's dominance over the entertainment industry, it's that they're distributing two of the most anticipated films of the entire year from two of the most popular franchises in the industry. Marvel Studios has seen their first 20 movies collectively gross $17 billion, while the four new Star Wars installments have already turned a profit on Disney's surprising purchase of Lucasfilm. Simply put, Endgame and Episode IX are going to be huge.
One thing that will be interesting to keep tabs on is which one grosses more at the box office. There are a lot of factors to consider when discussing this topic, especially since the two properties have wildly different results in foreign markets. The real winner, of course, will be Mickey Mouse and the incredible media empire Bob Iger has assembled, but we're going to try to predict whether Endgame or Episode IX will win the individual battle commercially.
The Case for Star Wars 9
Star Wars is coming off its first box office flop in Solo, but things should be very different this year. Episode IX sees the franchise return to its new home of December, where The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and The Last Jedi steamrolled the competition to the tune of more than $4 billion in ticket sales. With the exception of the Jumanji sequel, Star Wars 9 will be the only real studio tentpole in town over the holidays, putting it in prime position for a lucrative run. To top it all off, January is rather slow for new releases, so Episode IX won't be going up against much of note well into 2020. That'll only stand to boost its prospects, since most people will be returning for repeat viewings (in lieu of seeing a lower-profile title). Endgame premieres in April, right before the mad dash of the summer blockbusters. Avengers is going to do just fine, but there are plenty of movies looking to take away some business and cut its legs.
Both Endgame and Episode IX have an air of finality surrounding them, but in the case of the latter, it's a little more concrete. Yes, Lucasfilm is actively developing a new slate of Star Wars movies for the 2020s, but they've yet to officially date them or make any real headway so far (Rian Johnson has been working on his mystery thriller Knives Out). Realistically, this is going to be the last Star Wars film in theaters for the next few years, and it's one that looks to definitively end the Skywalker saga before the franchise goes off in new directions. Endgame serves as the culmination of the first 22-project arc in the MCU, but the studio already has Spider-Man: Far From Home set for a July debut with more (like Black Panther 2) well on the way. Endgame is "the end," but not in the sense Episode IX is. That gives Star Wars a small edge, since films that clearly conclude their respective franchise tend to do very well at the box office. It's a large-scale cinematic event that everyone will want to be a part of. Episode IX isn't "just another Star Wars movie" like Solo was; it's the last Star Wars movie of the Skywalker saga - a narrative that's defined pop culture for more than 40 years.
The Case for Avengers: Endgame
Of course, Endgame is going to be a major event itself, serving as the direct sequel to the massive hit that was Infinity War. Last spring/summer's blockbuster became the fourth member of the $2 billion club and sent the zeitgeist into a frenzy with its jaw-dropping cliffhanger ending that saw half of the universe's population snapped out of existence. If you're looking for Endgame's primary trump card, Thanos' snap might be it. Audiences left the theater wanting more, knowing that what they had just witnessed was not a complete story. Even though savvy fans understand Peter Parker, T'Challa, and others will be back for future solo movies, there's still a strong interest in seeing how the battle against the Mad Titan plays out and what the surviving Avengers must do to fix the damage. Usually, the followup to a record-breaking smash can't match or surpass the historic figures, but this could be a rare exception. Star Wars fandom is broken, but Marvel's remains in good faith after Infinity War.
Speaking of Avengers fans, that group is a bit more global than Star Wars. As we'll explore in greater detail later, Marvel's major event films (like Infinity War) do much better internationally than Star Wars' comparable titles (the first two installments of the sequel trilogy). This is by virtue of Marvel being the more recent of the two properties. When Star Wars first premiered in 1977, the worldwide box office was essentially an afterthought; today, it's a much more significant priority. Overseas audiences simply have a deeper connection with the MCU, since they've had the luxury of following it since the beginning and built up an investment over the past decade. Star Wars is still relatively new in some territories, so the anticipation for Episode IX may not be as great as it is elsewhere in the world (particularly America). With this in mind, things are shaping up to be a very interesting box office showdown.
Star Wars 9 Will Top The Domestic Box Office
At the beginning of its Disney era, Star Wars established a mini domestic box office dynasty, finishing in the top spot for three consecutive years. Even during this Golden Age for superhero cinema, the galaxy far, far away remained king. The Force Awakens ($936.6 million), Rogue One ($532.1 million), and The Last Jedi ($620.1 million) were heads and tails above the competition, ending their runs on average $148.8 million ahead of the second-place film. Even Captain America: Civil War (at the time, Marvel's biggest ensemble yet and essentially Avengers 2.5) couldn't hold a candle to Rogue One (a one-off anthology with an entirely new cast of characters that had nothing to do with Episode VII). That alone speaks to the drawing power of Star Wars domestically. If it's released at the right time of year (i.e. not summer), a new Star Wars movie can easily command the attention of the moviegoing public. There's a reason why Solo co-writer Jon Kasdan wondered how that spinoff would have done if it was a December release.
It's true that Infinity War outgrossed The Last Jedi, but the gap wasn't too big. The former grossed $678.8 million, so the difference comes to about $58.7 million. Unless Endgame drastically exceeds even the rosiest expectations and tops James Cameron's Avatar ($760.5 million), that seems like a figure Episode IX should be able to make up. In addition to the anticipated boost of it being the "last" film, Episode IX also ends a 19-month drought of new Star Wars content at the multiplex. There will most definitely be a palpable demand to return to the galaxy far, far away - especially once the proper marketing campaign kicks into high gear. Yes, the Jumanji sequel is a factor one must consider when discussing Episode IX's prospects, but even with Welcome to the Jungle taking away some repeat business from Last Jedi, there was still more than a $200 million disparity in their total domestic grosses. Barring an unforeseen catastrophe, Episode IX essentially has the domestic title locked up. It won't touch The Force Awakens' $936.6 million, but it should make more than Last Jedi, particularly if word-of-mouth is strong.
Avengers: Endgame Will Top The Worldwide Box Office
With Star Wars set to rule domestically, Endgame should take the worldwide crown. The primary reason for this is China, where Marvel movies are undoubtedly a much larger draw. The new wave of Star Wars movies have struggled mightily in the Middle Kingdom, evidenced by The Last Jedi being completely pulled from Chinese theaters after only two weeks and earning $42.5 million. In comparison, Infinity War grossed $359.5 million in China alone. 2018 proved superhero movies in general tend to do extremely well in the country, with both Venom and Aquaman receiving rare extended runs due to high audience interest. The Star Wars movies have seen diminishing returns in the territory, as Solo crashed and burned with $16.4 million. The Force Awakens actually did fairly well ($124.1 million), but that still isn't in the same ballpark as comic book adaptations. It was also the first new Star Wars film of this era, where curiosity was certainly piqued.
It's true Force Awakens grossed $2 billion worldwide, but that was a special set of circumstances that will not be replicated. The film made nearly $1 billion in the U.S. ($936.6 million), and even if Episode IX breaks the bank, there's virtually no chance it matches that figure. Force Awakens was a cinematic event the likes of which we'll probably never see again, which means its domestic (and, by virtue, worldwide) haul will be smaller. A reasonable ceiling is $700 million, in the neighborhood of Black Panther. If Force Awakens earned that much, its worldwide total shrinks to $1.8 billion. Since Episode IX is going to be a non-factor in China and a lesser (but still significant) hit in the States, it'll be hard-pressed to top Endgame internationally. Remember how Rogue One easily beat Civil War domestically? Well, Civil War earned more than Rogue One worldwide. There's a greater chance Endgame earns $2 billion than Star Wars 9.
It should be noted box office predictions are not an exact science, and it's quite possible things play out differently when the movies actually open and start earning their money. But given everything we know about the Marvel and Star Wars franchises, this seems like the most likely scenario. Regardless, Disney executives will be laughing all the way to the bank.
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of SkywalkerRelease Date:2019-12-20
The Avengers 4Release Date:2019-04-26