If you live in the real world, chances are you’ve read, heard or witnessed at least a sliver of Avengers: Endgame. Whether it’s watching its three thrilling trailers, stumbling upon its multitude of posters or pondering over hashtags like #DontSpoilTheEndgame or phrases such as “Whatever It Takes”, it’s quite likely you’ve come across some Endgame related material. Consequently, unless you’re living in hibernation, you at least have an inkling of the hype that Endgame is causing.
But there is a possibility, no matter how slim, that you’re at the other end of the spectrum and are not aware of this insane hype at all (shameless plug: I highly recommend going through some posts here). Or, you might have an idea of the hype but still be unaffected by all the hooplah, mania and frenzy that the movie is causing. You for one might just not care about Endgame and might actually not even plan on seeing in on the big screen, let alone in an IMAX theater (which you totally should). Most of all though, you might be wondering amidst the mess: Why is Avengers: Endgame so popular? What is all the hype about? Why is Avengers: Endgame such a big event, such an important movie? What’s so special about it?
Well, allow me to shed some light on the long history of such movies which in turn will help you understand the reasons that make this movie special. If you have some spare time and a snack / breakfast on your hands, you’d do yourself well to read this piece.
Big-budget blockbuster-level movies are no longer the rarity in Hollywood they once were. Every year, several movies are released on an astounding budget (we’re talking $200 million+ levels) with an exhorbitant amount of money spent additionally on marketing, promotions, merchandising and licensing deals. The studios behind these movies do all they can to market the movie as an “event”, a special outing that comes once in a lifetime. Not all succeed of course, but they try anyway, using trailers, posters, clips and general marketing strategies to sell these movies on their unique strengths.
But there was once an era where these movies did not exist. Hollywood as an industry has undergone a revolution itself (for better or worse, one could argue) with different kinds of movies being popular across different eras. Thus the 40s to the 60s were the decades where drama ruled the roost. Deep, psychological dramas, whether romantic or otherwise, were widely regarded as the best movies Hollywood made. This was until 1974 when a little director named Steven Spielberg changed the game by releasing Jaws in June of that year. It was a smash success, grossing a then insane $400 million and became what was known as the first summer event movie blockbuster in the industry. It was also the movie that led to Hollywood coining terms like “event movie” or “big-budget movie” or “blockbuster”.
Such movies were still a rarity of course and we got one or two movies of this kind a year. Then, in 1977, George Lucas gave us Star Wars and completely redefined the blockbuster, what it was capable of and the potential impact it could have. Star Wars was an enormous hit, the likes of which was unseen by generations to come. Its sequel, 1980s The Empire Strikes Back not only redefined what a sequel could do but, together with the Indiana Jones and James Bond movies, starting giving birth to something far more lucrative: franchises. A series of movies, these franchises started off with trilogies with the exception of some like James Bond running almost indefinitely and some even crossing over from TV to film and vice-versa, such as Star Trek. Sharing characters, plot elements and production methodologies, these franchises would absorb people, creating die-hard fans out of them and allow characters to breathe and grow across the spectrum of multiple films.
Enter the modern decade and technology finally caught up enough for superhero movies to become a reality. Combined with the concept of a franchise, several superhero films spawned their own franchises, running for multiple years with many having more than three movies under their belt. Some like the X-Men series even introduced spin-offs by featuring characters in secondary off-the-shelf stories that ran their own independent paths. At their core however, these movies were largely still relegated to being trilogies. Employing the three-act structure of a movie’s beginning, middle and end, these trilogies were essentially mimicking a single movie. For a long time, the industry was stuck on this model until Marvel came along.
Marvel Entertainment, which largely produced comics and consulted on movies of its characters that were produced by other studios, formed its own studio in 2005. Dubbed Marvel Studios, the studio was formed by securing a $525 million loan from Merryll Lynch that allowed it to produce up to 10 films. The studio’s head, Kevin Feige, forged a path to carve out a series of interconnected movies that would all be sub-franchises in their own right but would connect to form a giant, overarching franchise that could run indefinitely. It birthed the concept of a shared universe, one where a series of movies existed in the same world, its characters inhabiting the same universe with one movie’s choices having the potential of influencing another movie’s storylines.
Many expressed hesitation at the plan, especially when the movies featured lesser known characters like Iron Man, Thor and Captain America who general audiences had never heard of. Moreover, the connected universe model would’ve required a lot of internal coordination since each movie was made by a different director, as well as a lot of planning and audience investment for it to work. It made movies akin to TV Shows; you couldn’t fully grasp the sixth movie in the series until you had seen all five before it. It was a business gamble in every sense of the word.
The gamble started paying off though. The movies were well-made, intricately structured and had characters popping in and out of other people’s movies. Accordingly, they were massively successful, grossing hundreds of millions and eventually billions of dollars, with the first crossover titled The Avengers making $1.5 billion. To get some context, it was the highest grossing movie of 2012 as well as overall, worldwide, excluding James Cameron’s Titanic and Avatar. And thus, audiences awoke to this Marvel Cinematic Universe, abbreviated as the MCU, that arrived out of nowhere but captured the imaginations of public.
Marvel however continued introducing new characters, all while building up toward something. Thus, Iron Man got his three movies, Captain America and Thor got their three movies. Some characters introduced later, suhc as Guardians of the Galaxy got two movies and some that arrived even later such as Doctor Strange and Black Panther got one movie. Every character was essentially a franchise in its own right and with everyone being on the same universe, a crossover had the potential to unite everyone.
That’s exactly what happened last year with Avengers: Infinity War. All characters from over 20 movies came together in one single movie. Some were excluded of course, because of the lack of screen time, but overall it was like watching multiple franchises coming together in a single film. To get a sense of what that felt like, imagine if franchises like Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings were set in the same universe and their characters united in some sort of mega-event. That’s exactly what Infinity War felt like. It also meant there was a huge risk of the movie failing. But with great direction, some taut editing and a focus on the antagonist Thanos, Marvel made Infinity War a great movie filled with crowd-pleasing moments that elicited strong reactions from theaters. And the movie ended with an equally strong gut-punch that left the audiences in shock. Without giving anything away, it was an ending never done for such a big-budget movie and together with various elements in the movie, made Infinity War a pop-culture event.
Now, Avengers: Endgame is the sequel to this mega-event movie that itself was the culmination of years’ worth of watching superhero movies and franchises play within a carefully orchestrated sandbox. It has the same characters, the same antagonist and a plot so carefully guarded that no one has any idea how things are going to turn out. With the marketing adopting a no-spoiler policy and using material sparingly in trailers, the film has raised audience curiosity ten-fold. It’s akin to imagining the impact that the Harry Potter franchise would’ve had when it was ending, or Game of Thrones has now when it’s ending.
Yet another reason for the strong attachment to Endgame is the franchise to which it belongs and its resulting popularity. Sure, there are countless franchises in movies and TV Shows but very few attain mass hysteria levels of popularity. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has over the last 11 years, grown to become that kind of franchise, which further rubs off on any movie released in the series, let alone one that promises to culminate it. There are people who watched the first Iron Man when they were 10 years old who now, would’ve turned into 21 year old adults. Consequently, there’s a lot of nostalgia and emotions attached to it with expectations of a huge payoff.
If you look at the long history above, you’ll realize why Avengers: Endgame is a cinematic event unlike any other in history. It is considered the sequel to one of the biggest movies in recent times and the end to one of the most lucrative, popular, recent and huge franchises in the last 10 years. And while the franchise itself will continue, it will be a long time before the movies ahead reach a crescendo of this scale. For anyone who’s a fan of movies, franchises and pop-culture in general, Avengers: Endgame is simply an event you cannot afford to miss.