Thanos, the antagonist of Avengers: Infinity War, overpowers Iron Man, Captain America and the rest of Earth’s mightiest heroes with minimal effort. The film’s unprecedented success poses a similar threat to Disney, as its film studio now has a tough act to follow. But the company’s unrivalled cast of characters, willingness to take risks, recent track record and upcoming streaming service should give it a fighting chance.
Avengers: Infinity War, the culmination of a decade of movies that took place in the shared world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), has broken multiple records and already ranks as the fourth highest-grossing film in history with about $1.7 billion in global box office. That’s a tough act to follow, but Disney’s intellectual property (IP) meant CEO Bob Iger didn’t sound worried on the company’s latest earnings call. “We're confident that with the 7,000 some odd characters that are part of the Marvel universe that there's plenty stories and characters to mine from and [we] have some great ideas.” Moreover, Marvel is only one gem in Disney’s gauntlet: it also has its famed in-house studio and owns Pixar and Lucasfilm. Its release slate for the next 18 months gives a good sense of the volume and variety of popular franchises available: The Incredibles 2, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel, Dumbo, Aladdin, Toy Story 4, The Lion King, Frozen 2 and Star Wars: Episode IX.
After nearly a century in business, Disney continues to innovate and take risks. It broke new ground recently with Black Panther, the first superhero film to feature a predominantly black cast. Its reward was about $1.3 billion in global box office, highlighting “the power of new perspectives” and making “a very loud statement about the importance of risk taking and the value of inclusion” according to Iger. Coupled with Disney’s expertise in capitalising on hit films across its divisions – after Frozen blew up it debuted the characters in its theme parks and resorts, launched branded merchandise and video games, added the main characters to its Once Upon a Time television show and began work on Frozen 2 – it’s unlikely that Avengers: Infinity War and its sequel next year will be its last hurrah. “The MCU is by far the most lucrative box office franchise of all time, creating an incredible pipeline of proven branded IP that drives significant opportunity across our entire organization,” says Iger.
Disney is already lining up potential follow-ups to Avengers: Infinity War. It’s currently developing exclusive Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars and Disney content for its upcoming video-streaming platform, scheduled for release in late 2019. It’s likely that viewers will fall in love with some of its new characters, as they have with Marvel’s Daredevil and Jessica Jones on Netflix. Disney can then bring those characters to the big screen, safe in the knowledge of a clamouring captive audience.
The Mouse House may have made a rod for its own back with Avengers: Infinity War, but its unique combination of beloved characters, bold vision, business nous and a brand-new testing ground for ideas should ensure success for years to come.