Walt Disney’s Ant-Man and the Wasp took a week to pass the $100 million mark at the domestic box office. It earned around $5.3 million on Thursday, a solid hold (-10% from Wednesday) which gives it a seven-day total of $103m. Like the Wednesday gross, Ant-Man and the Wasp‘s Thursday number is nearly tied with the adjusted-for-inflation day six and day seven totals of Ant-Man from three summers ago. Depending on how well it holds up against Skyscraper (PG-13 action thrills) and Hotel Transylvania 3 (kid-friendly comedic fantasy hijinks), it might end up a lot closer to Ant-Man‘s $28m adjusted-for-inflation second weekend than its debut was to its $57.2m opening weekend.
Whether this means anything for the long-term is frankly open to discussion, and we’ll know a lot more after its second weekend comes and goes. Of course, we should remember that Sony’s Spider-Man: Homecoming took a harsh 62% tumble in weekend two from its $117 million debut weekend, only to rally back (partially due to an utter lack of kid-friendly live-action biggies between July and November) and hit $334m domestic. The question, even if Ant-Man and the Wasp does take a hit this weekend, is whether Mama Mia! Here We Go Again and Mission: Impossible Fallout qualify as kid-friendly live-action fare.
This isn’t exactly a doomsday scenario. Even if (and this is a big “if”) Ant-Man and the Wasp ends up with a domestic total closer to $170 million than $200m, the sky will not fall. It’s still doing well overseas (with China yet to come) and should be relatively profitable considering its $160m budget. If anything, Ant-Man and the Wasp joins Thor: Ragnarok as the rare MCU movie that can essentially afford to fail. Thor: Ragnarok was coming off Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming and was treated as the last stand-alone Thor movie. If Ant-Man and the Wasp had outright bombed, then I guess the only loss would be no Ant-Man 3.
It wasn’t a franchise starter like Black Panther or Captain Marvel. It wasn’t a chance to prove an MCU flick without Tony Stark could still hit $800 million worldwide. It wasn’t a must-win reboot for a prized character (Spider-Man) from a rival studio who (due to wheeling and dealing) became a part of the MCU. After the first Ant-Man became a leggy and well-liked $519m-grossing hit (on a $130m budget) despite behind-the-scenes melodrama and uncertain audience interest, this sequel was the victory lap. Yes, it would stink if the first MCU movie with a female superhero in the title somewhat underperformed (at least domestically), but I’m sure Marvel is saving that “Woohoo… progress!” sell for Captain Marvel.
If we note that there will be some questions about how much of a pull the MCU will still (comparatively) have after Avengers 4 essentially wraps up the story (with the obvious exception of Black Panther 2), then Ant-Man and the Wasp is perhaps Marvel’s last risk-free offering for a little while. That’s almost unfair since Marvel movies are almost always in a position to prove something in terms of whether this kind of comic book movie or that kind of comic book movie can succeed. That’s the price Marvel has paid for somewhat expanding their repertoire. That, in turn, has allowed the films to differentiate themselves enough that audiences don’t mind getting three in a year.
Much of this is trivial in the broad scheme of things. Peyton Reed’s well-liked Ant-Man and the Wasp still powered the entire 20-movie Marvel Cinematic Universe to $17 billion over its global lifetime gross. There is a very good chance that Captain Marvel and Avengers 4 may push the whole MCU over the $20b mark, but otherwise, it’ll be up to Spider-Man: Far From Home to do the job. We could see the total hit $21b by around this time next year, giving those first 23 movies an average global gross (sans inflation) of around $913 million worldwide. And that’s counting Phase One flicks like Incredible Hulk and Captain America that didn’t even top $400m.
Ant-Man and the Wasp can afford to float like a butterfly or sting like a bee. It can, relatively speaking, afford to fail (or at least become Marvel’s lowest-grossing sequel). Besides, it might be nice to have a few MCU franchises that aren’t expected to earn top-tier global (or merely domestic) numbers. With ever-increasing numbers comes ever-increasing expectations, so we need an occasional reminder that MCU didn’t have a single $800 million+ grosser without Iron Man until just last year. Whether it’s peaking right at the end or will continue to soar in Phase Four and beyond, well, isn’t that the question of the day? In the meantime, check back tomorrow to see how far Ant-Man and the Wasp dove on its second Friday.