Hollywood to Joss Whedon: "Shut up and take my money!"

whedonAt least, that’s what he can likely expect to hear over the next week from powerful studio types. The Avengers has exceeded all expectations and looks set to beat Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 all-time US opening weekend record of $169 million. And not by just a few million. The current estimate is $185 million, and it was $175 earlier today, so Deadline reports that even $200 million is possible. The Avengers being the first to reach that milestone is fitting after Spider-Man was the first to crack $100 million ten years ago this weekend.

Disney’s marketing juggernaut and the groundwork laid by the previous Marvel Studios films naturally played a huge part in the initial success of The Avengers, but Whedon deserves a lot of the credit too. By delivering a smart, crowd-pleasing, immensely satisfying film, he garnered near unanimous critical praise. Strong word-of-mouth could also circle the globe due to the early release of the film in nearly every international territory, so American fans were no doubt ready to gnaw their own arm off to get to the movie. If The Avengers was awful, it would still have made a bucket, but not this much.

And if The Avengers doesn’t experience a significant drop in its second weekend, that in particular will be down to Whedon. Consequently, he will have executives beating down his door with an offer for every major project they have in development or a chance to make one of his own. He delivered a film that people are telling their friends they loved and that also warrants re-watchability, and that’s an asset to any major movie campaign. Tempting as it is to say that Hollywood doesn’t care if a movie’s good, a good movie combined with savvy marketing is more fruitful than just savvy marketing.

If The Avengers breaks a second record and becomes the first film to score over $100 million in its second weekend–which, if it does pass $200 million this weekend, will only require it to drop less than 50%, which is entirely feasible–then Whedon will be the hottest of properties.

And that’s just the domestic box office. The total international take so far is $575 million, only around $40 million shy of what Iron Man 2–the top Marvel Studios grosser to date–earned internationally in its entire run. Any concern that audiences might be tiring of superhero films or the Marvel Studios characters has been soundly trounced.

I’m eager to see it a second time myself, not because the plot was hard to follow or the film is rich with hidden meaning, but because it’s packed with so much detail and so many witty lines that I couldn’t possibly pick everything up the first time. And The Avengers is the rare film that works better with a crowd. When I saw it, Whedon had the audience in the palm of his hand. It was thrilling to be a part of and I’d like to do that again.

He’s already alluded in new interviews to what he might do next, and he’s staying decidedly low-key. His personally-financed, out-of-the-blue contemporary production of Much Ado About Nothing, starring numerous Whedon alumni, is in post-production. A Dr Horrible sequel is in the planning stages. A long-gestating web series with Warren Ellis called Wastelanders–reportedly a darker and more intense project than is typical of Whedon–is back in his sights now that Avengers is done. He has avoided mentioning bringing any passion projects to fruition with his new cachet, except to say that he would rather pursue his own characters after working for two years in Marvel’s sandbox.

No problem though – he could still snag a huge budget if he wants to. He could take the Christopher Nolan route and make a non-franchise pet project in between superhero installments (Whedon will surely be asked back for an Avengers sequel, but then Marvel can be unpredictable in retaining their talent). Nolan’s Dark Knight success got Inception made, so how might Whedon capitalise? The notion of him focusing solely on small web projects seems far-fetched, but then I’d applaud an unconventional response to immense financial success.

Whichever medium he chooses for his next major project, the key factor is that Whedon is in a far more privileged position than he was following the underperformance of Serenity and the cancellation of Dollhouse. He can lay the foundation here for the rest of his career, and he’s not going to let that opportunity slip by. Watching how one of pop culture’s most distinctive talents chooses to take advantage of it will be fascinating.

Oh, and pity Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows next weekend. Especially if it subverts all expectations and is actually decent. And suddenly The Dark Knight Rises is looking a teensy bit like an underdog, shockingly enough…

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2 thoughts on “Hollywood to Joss Whedon: "Shut up and take my money!"

  1. Lee says:

    After Captain America, Thor, and to a lesser extent Iron Man 2, I wasn't particularly interested in seeing The Avengers, until I heard Whedon was directing it.I expected him to do something interesting with it, and he exceeded all expectations. Hopefully he will now get a freer run than he's hand in the past with the option to continue projects through to completion.

  2. Jack Reed says:

    Lee, absolutely. He's been shafted too many times now, and this movie absolutely proves that he can produce a mass entertainment with creative integrity and a fairly distinctive vision. But unlike most directors, who would go on to a well-funded passion project after this, with Whedon it's hard to predict where he'll go next. I imagine we'll hear something fairly soon.

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