“Ant-Man” has reigned victorious at the box office this weekend but not by much. Scoring a 58 million dollar opener which is only 8 million ahead of its competition, “Minions”, the opening would be celebrated by most other films. For Marvel Studios this is the second lowest opening for one of their films. The lowest being the sometimes forgotten MCU film, “The Incredible Hulk” at 55 million, released in 2008. Coming off the huge box office success in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (which some people want to spin as a box office disappointment but when your movie is the 6th highest grossing film of all time I beg to differ), and “Guardians of the Galaxy” this is certainly a lower return then we’re used to seeing from Marvel.
After the surprise box office of “Guardians of the Galaxy” most people saw “Ant-Man” as another movie that would surprise at the box office. The setup was similar to each other. Both were fairly unknown Marvel brand properties that aren’t instantly recognizable like Batman or Spider-Man. Both movies were a roll of the dice that could have either ended up (in lesser hands) a goofy and laughable attempt to make us care about strange and weird comic book characters. In “Guardians” we have a talking tree and raccoon as main heroes while in “Ant-Man” our main hero can talk to ants. If you walk down the street and tell people those premises without them seeing either films they’d probably think, “that’s stupid”. I wouldn’t blame them either. What works on the comic book page might look silly and ludicrous on screen. Naturally many people saw the similarities to each film and predicted that “Ant-Man” would wind up a lot like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and surprising us all.
However early in the “Ant-Man” marketing I had a feeling we weren’t going to see a repeat of the same performance. Many still stuck to the same narrative path and believed we were going to see a repeat. Yet there is a big difference between the two movies and why they didn’t end up sharing the same success is the marketing of the films. This editorial isn’t a question of which film is better. It is instead a question of why “Ant-Man” wasn’t the same unexpected box office success as Guardians?
As I stated in the previous paragraph the main reason for the differences between their successes in terms of dollars earned starts and ends with their marketing. Yes, “Guardians of the Galaxy” was met with some snickering and sneers in regards to its premise but that quickly ended because the marketing was really on point. Marvel embraced the lunacy of the property and injected it to every trailer, poster and TV spot they could. The result was with every piece of marketing from the studio was met with a collective excitement and curiosity from moviegoers. The trailers were fun and well put together which heightened the anticipation for the film. Early word of mouth was glowing and the result was a huge unexpected opening of 93 million dollars domestically and went on to gross a worldwide total of 774 million.
“Ant-Man” though was a different beast entirely. Sure, there was some behind the scenes drama before the start of production but that’s not what hurt the film in the long run. However I believe that didn’t hurt the production in the least bit. Any good dose of advertising can make you forget about any sort of drama that happened before a movie’s release (that is true in any sort of advertisement whether it be politically or commercially etc). Now what happened with “Ant-Man” was the marketing was so uneven that I believe it tempered the excitement and anticipation for this film.
The first trailer was decent but nothing to jump up and down about and got lost in “The Avengers” shuffle. The 2nd trailer was a marked improvement over the previous one and did help boost some excitement for the property. What preceded though was a mix bag. The posters look generic, the TV spots and other little things that got released to the public weren’t gelling well with one other. Some looked too serious while others looked too comedic. There was no constant theme between them all. It became clear that Marvel was throwing a lot of different things at the wall seeing what would stick. There were posters with Ant-Man by the other Avenger characters as if to reassure audiences that this film indeed was a part of the cinematic universe. Then after that we got the weird and amateur looking character posters where the people were out of focus with a small Ant-Man (in front of them ) in focus. That’s a perfect example of good idea but horrible execution. It looked like bad Photoshop work instead of professional quality. It was clear that the same level of excitement as “Guardians” just wasn’t there. They even tried playing the “Guardians” angle by printing on the “Ant-Man” posters, “From the studio that brought you Guardians of the Galaxy”.
Marvel then went ahead and gave away big spoilers in their trailers. Giving away, what would have been, a surprise and fun character appearance in what felt like a last ditch effort to get people in seats. Early word of mouth wasn’t great either (to be fair though it did raise significantly a few days closer to the release).
To also be fair “Ant-Man” is a hard film to market. “Guardians” is a bit easier with its huge spectacle and bizarre nature while “Ant-Man” was a bit more down to Earth. Still, there are better ways to market the movie then what we got. Like for example why not play up the heist angle more? It’s clear in the film that this is meant to be more of a heist film than a superhero film. Give moviegoers some “Ocean’s Eleven” or even some “Fast Five”-esque flavors in the trailers. You market “Guardians” as a big and strange space opera and “Captain America: Winter Solider” as a political thriller, why not market “Ant-Man” in a similar fashion? Then again I didn’t graduate with a marketing degree so I could be complete off base here.
Either way this not an article where I am coming out here and saying “Ant-Man” will bomb and this is the beginning of the end for comic book films! No, that would be ridiculous to say. The movie has almost made its budget back and the positive word of mouth will probably keep the film from facing significant drop off issues (then again four major films are being release next week in “Pixels”, “Southpaw”, ‘Vatican Tapes” and also “Paper Towns). This will be fine at the box office earning overall and isn’t the beginning of the end. However, I think there is a reason why this isn’t making “Guardians” level money, and that has to do with the execution of Marvel’s marketing plan. Could “Ant-Man” been the next “Guardians”? Potentially, however that could also been a lightning in a bottle success.