‘Avengers’ pulls in $2 billion to become the second-best-selling film of all time

The Avengers are on a mission to smash box office records

Today's expression: On a tear
Explore more: Lesson #153
May 9, 2019:

“Avengers: Endgame,” the twenty-second film in Marvel’s superhero series, has earned over $2 billion in its first two weeks, making it the second-best-selling film of all time, behind only “Avatar.” The film’s sales were front-loaded, with many fans buying tickets in advance for the first weekend. Theaters in the United States were devoting half their screens to the action-hero movie, and were staying open until 2:00 a.m. Plus, learn what it means to be “on a tear.”

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The Avengers are on a mission: not to defeat Thanos, but to smash box office records

Welcome back to Plain English, the best podcast on Spotify. That’s not me talking: that’s Jorge from Puebla. The best podcast on Spotify, he says. And he’s tried ‘em all too. Thanks Jorge. I’m Jeff. JR is the producer. This is episode 153, and you can find our interactive transcripts for this episode at PlainEnglish.com/153.

Coming up on today’s program: The Avengers are on a tear. Don’t worry—no spoilers. I haven’t even seen the movie, so you’re safe. But the box-office receipts of this latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are out of this world: they grossed over two billion dollars in just the first two weekends. We’re going to talk about the early success of this twenty-second Marvel movie, and talk a little bit about why it has been so successful. It’s a clever strategy by Disney. Later on in today’s episode, we’ll talk about what it means to be “on a tear.” And we have the song of the week for you, as well.

Before we jump in, I wanted to remind you about our partner Audible. They are the ones who turn so many of the world’s best books into audiobooks. And they have an offer for Plain English listeners: if you sign up for a free trial, you’ll get to download one audiobook to keep forever. You can find the details at PlainEnglish.com/book .


Avengers are Disney’s box-office hero

The Avengers are on a tear. They dominated cultural conversation—even passing Game of Thrones in terms of buzz in the United States—and had a spectacular first couple of weekends at the box office. The numbers are staggering: it made $2.2 billion in its first two weeks.

The film opened with a record-setting debut weekend, breaking opening weekend records and outpacing its projections. It became the first film to reach $1 billion in box-office receipts on its first weekend. It broke the record for the first ten days in China, hauling in over $500 million in that country alone. Combine that with the receipts from its second weekend—last weekend—and the film has passed the $2 billion mark already.

It passed its predecessor, “Avengers: Infinity War”, then “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, and then—as one writer put it—it sailed past “Titanic” to become the second-highest grossing movie of all time. The highest-grossing movie of all time is “Avatar,” and it looks increasingly likely that Avengers will overtake that film to claim its perch on the top of the all-time highest-grossing movies: and we are still only in the second week. Part of the reason why Avengers has had such early success is China: they are crazy for Avengers in China. Another reason is pre-sales. About a third of the US tickets were purchased in advance on the site Fandango. Fandango said that Avengers had more pre-sold tickets than any other in the company’s history. Normally when a hit movie comes out, a lot of people go to see it, they like it, they spread the word, then their friends go the second or third weekend, and so on. But with Avengers, there are so many fans already, it didn’t need the buzz. So the question is, did all its fans come out the first weekend, or are there still more people who need to see it for the first time?

Part of the reason why it had such a big weekend is that fans wanted to avoid social media spoilers: some theaters in the US were devoting half their screens to Avengers, and had screenings, sometimes, until 2:00 in the morning. It’s funny what social media does to people’s habits: they didn’t want to risk seeing their friends over the weekend or their coworkers on Monday if they hadn’t seen Avengers.

“Avengers: Endgame” is the most recent film in the Marvel series. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, as the series is called, is comprised of twenty-two films that are all based on characters that appear in Marvel Comics. The other superhero characters include Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America, Ant-Man, Thor and others. Since the first Marvel movie came out in 2008, there have been four so-called Avengers movies, where the main heroes from the different movies come together and all appear in one film. So for example, in the last Avengers movie, which was “Avengers: Infiniti War”, you had Iron Man, Thor, Spider-Man, Hulk, all those characters in there. Those are called crossover films, where characters from different storylines come together in one movie.

The Marvel movies are produced by Marvel Studios, which is owned by Disney, and they are credited with breathing new life into Disney’s movie business. The real genius in the films is the way the storylines are interwoven. That means the story plays out like a long television series, rather than just individual films. So moviegoers don’t want to skip any movies in the series. They need to know, not only what happens in each film, but how the events work into the broader storyline. It’s a clever strategy, and it has paid dividends to Disney. Every time a new Marvel movie comes out, they know they have a hit: because the brand is so strong, there’s no risk that it might not be a success at the box office.

The funny thing is, it has been common throughout recent history to worry that movie theaters and the moviegoing experience are dying. When VHS tapes came out in the 80s, then when DVDs came out, then when high-definition televisions came out, and then finally with streaming—each time a new technology improves movie-watching at home, people say nobody will have to go to the movies anymore. But it really hasn’t been true—movie theaters have had ups and downs, but what the new Avengers movie shows is that going to the movies is about more than just seeing the movie—it’s a social experience. You go with your friends and you want to be part of the opening weekend. It’s an event. Theaters can still make their money off these big, popular films that everyone wants to see together—and then people can watch according to their more individualized tastes at home.

Now if twenty-two movies is not enough for you, don’t worry. There is yet another Marvel movie currently in post-production: another Spider-Man movie, the twenty-third in the series, will come out in July.


I feel bad for the other movies that came out the same weekend—talk about being overshadowed!

All right—I’m almost done with “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” That’s the book I’m reading in Spanish now. It’s really funny, really clever. And it’s easy to read. My rule is that if I can read in Spanish, you should at least try it in English. It’s also available as an audiobook. I listened to a sample of it on Audible and the author speaks very clearly and they do voices for the characters and things. So if you’re on a long commute and you want something entertaining in English, then listening to an audiobook is a good idea. The best news is you can get a free audiobook by going to PlainEnglish.com/book , read up on the offer for a free audiobook to keep for life, and sign up. And it can be any book! It doesn’t have to be the one JR and I are reading. PlainEnglish.com/book . It can even be an audiobook in your own language.

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Expression: On a tear