Features and Columns · Movies

‘Captain Marvel’ Breaks the Record for Best Opening Weekend for a Woman Director

The 21st installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe also marks the best completely introductory solo superhero entry of the whole franchise.
Marvel Studios
By  · Published on March 10th, 2019

Higher, further, faster might be the easiest way to describe the box office for Captain Marvel, which has gone higher and further financially in a shorter time for a movie of its kind. That’d be the female-led superhero variety, of course, as this 21st installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe drew an opening weekend audience of 17 million people in North America (for those needing dollar signs, that’s $153,4 million). Previous best in that department was Wonder Woman, which sold just 11.5 million tickets in its debut two years ago.

Maybe if Incredibles 2 hadn’t ultimately become more of another super-family story after focusing on Elastigirl, we’d have another narrative here. Speaking of tricky box office analysis, many outlets are reporting Captain Marvel had the best opening for a female-fronted film. Perhaps they’re mainly referring to its worldwide take ($457 million), which is still only true if we disqualify Star Wars: The Force Awakens from being Rey’s movie. As for domestically, Captain Marvel falls short of a couple of Hunger Games movies, a few Twilights, Rogue One, and the live-action Beauty and the Beast.

Here’s where Captain Marvel does soar: while DC and Wonder Woman still holds the honor of having the best opening box office gross for a movie directed solely by a woman (Patty Jenkins), Marvel’s latest tops it in the category of women-directed movies when allowing for filmmakers who are part of a directing team. Anna Boden, who helmed Captain Marvel with Ryan Fleck, now has the distinction of breaking the record for best box office debut for a woman director. That wouldn’t be the case had the Shrek and Twilight sequels retained the women who directed or co-directed the first parts of those franchises.

Together, former Sundance darlings Boden and Fleck might hold a new record for best opening compared to their last effort. Captain Marvel‘s debut gross is 12,340 times greater than their 2015 drama, Mississippi Grind (opening weekend domestic gross: $12,434). Comparatively, Jurassic World gave fellow former indie filmmaker Colin Trevorrow only a 2,136-times increase over his Safety Not Guaranteed opening. Maybe there are some bigger gaps between opening figures somewhere down the list, but as for major blockbusters, the closest might be Sam Raimi doing 10,823 times his debut for The Gift with Spider-Man.

Within the MCU, Captain Marvel had the seventh best opening-weekend attendance, coming in just ahead of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. It’s the fourth best for a “solo” entry in the franchise (never mind Captain America: Civil War hardly being a solo Cap movie) and the second for best first solo entry, behind Black Panther. One achievement that I’m not seeing highlighted anywhere else: this is the best fully introductory solo effort, considering Black Panther made his debut quite prominently in Civil War. Next best would be the original Iron Man, which drew just 13.7 million people for its 2008 opening.

Outside of the MCU, Captain Marvel had only the second-best debut domestic attendance ever for a solo superhero first appearance, behind Spider-Man‘s draw of 19.8 million back in 2002. Carol Danvers had a better solo launch than Iron Man and all the rest of the Avengers (including the MCU version of Spidey), as well as Batman, Superman, Deadpool, and numerous others. She didn’t sell more tickets than Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games, though. That’s still one of the biggest franchise-starters of all time. Technically, Wonder Woman had a bigger first-appearance movie, too, with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice debuting with 19.3 million tickets sold. But that was hardly solely her doing.

If there’s any way to see Captain Marvel‘s debut as a disappointment, we’d have to look at the projections last week, when Box Office Pro forecast the movie’s three-day take being as high as $175 million. That number was a midway point within a very wide range of potentially doing anywhere between $150-195 million. Back in January, Box Office Pro was slightly more reserved, headlining a long-range outlook of more than $140 million, but even then, their range was $140-$180 million and a settled figure of $160 million. The site definitely overshot with their expectation.

Fortunately, Captain Marvel still went above and beyond what the haters would have preferred. There’s no way the protests against Brie Larson and the movie in general harmed the movie, and with an ‘A’ grade from opening-night moviegoers polled via CinemaScore, this thing should have some great legs. Not the sort we saw last year with Black Panther, but we can expect Captain Marvel to still be making a lot of money well through the release of Avengers: Endgame next month, and not just because that climactic MCU installment (which is partly set up with a Captain Marvel end credits scene) could wind up sending extra fans to its precursor after the fact. Another way Captain Marvel will last: Disney is sure to greenlight a sequel very soon.

In other box office news, congratulations are in order for Apollo 11, the latest documentary to break through the top 10. The film, which chronicles the titular NASA mission that sent the first men to the Moon, landed tenth-place spot despite only being on 405 screens. Another nonfiction theatrical hit following an already impressive debut last weekend during its IMAX-exclusive run. As for the best per-screen average of the weekend, Captain Marvel made enough to take that honor, as well ($35,599/theater), but the Julianne Moore-led Gloria Bell was close with about $29,044 from each of its five locations.

Here are the weekend’s top 10 titles by the number of tickets sold with new and newly wide titles in bold and totals in parentheses:

1. Captain Marvel – 17 million (17 million)
2. How to Train Your Dragon 3 – 1.6 million (13.3 million)
3. A Madea Family Funeral – 1.4 million (5.1 million)
4. The LEGO Movie 2 – 0.43 million (10.8 million)
5. Alita: Battle Angel – 0.36 million (8.7 million)
6. Green Book – 0.28 million (8.9 million)
7. Isn’t It Romantic – 0.25 million (4.9 million)
8. Greta – 0.2424 million (0.9 million)
9. Fighting with My Family – 0.2419 million (2.1 million)
10. Apollo 11 – 0.1 million (0.4 million)

All box office figures via Box Office Mojo.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.