Marvel has been the king of the box office so far this year, accumulating $3.57 billion in worldwide ticket sales through early July, and helping Disney (NYSE:DIS) commandeer a 36% share of the domestic movie industry take. The debut of Ant-Man and the Wasp seems destined to add to the total, marking Marvel's 20th successive opening at No. 1 in the U.S. box office. 

After the blockbuster debuts of Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War -- which collected $640 million and $374 million worldwide, respectively, on their opening weekends -- the $161 million achieved by Ant-Man and the Wasp may seem relatively tame by comparison. However, such an apples-to-oranges comparison needs to be put into perspective.

Scene from Ant-Man and the Wasp, with the titular heroes in their respective costumes in front of a secured, metal and heavy glass room filled with computer equipment.

Image source: Marvel.

Some of these things are not like the others

It isn't reasonable to expect Marvel's single-character movies to perform on the same level as the Avengers team-up films, so a more practical comparison would exclude them. Looking just at sequels and how they performed relative to the original movies that preceded them levels the playing field.


Opening Weekend Domestic Box Office

Change Compared to Initial Film

Guardians of the Galaxy 2

$146 million


Captain America: The Winter Soldier

$95 million


Ant-Man and the Wasp

$76 million


Iron Man 2

$128 million


Thor: The Dark World

$86 million


Data by Box Office Mojo. Chart by author.

As shown in the chart above, the latest addition to the Marvel canon is right in the middle of the pack, with its opening weekend box office up 33% compared to the original entry. It's also important to note that each of the sequels outperformed the origin movie that preceded it.

Another perspective

Another, perhaps more relevant way to measure the success or failure of a movie is to determine how much was left from ticket sales after subtracting the film's estimated production and marketing expenses. This is a less-than-perfect exercise, as the studios rarely release those figures, but publicly available estimates provide a reasonable proxy.

As a general rule of thumb, a movie doesn't hit breakeven until ticket sales exceed about twice the production budget, due to marketing and various other costs.


Worldwide Box Office

Production and Marketing (Estimate)


Guardians of the Galaxy 2

$863 million

$400 million

$463 million

Iron Man 2

$621 million

$340 million

$281 million

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

$714 million

$340 million

$374 million

Thor: The Dark World

$645 million

$300 million

$345 million

Data by The Numbers. Chart by author.

At this point, it's anyone's guess what Ant-Man and the Wasp's final box office tally will be, but worldwide ticket sales are already closing in on $300 million. That's well ahead of the movie's $130 million production budget, so the film will ultimately be profitable.

What it all means

If Disney has shown anything this year, it's that the strength of the Marvel brand is growing over time. The ticket sales of each sequel have exceeded the take of their respective predecessors, and Avengers: Infinity War has smashed records, becoming only the fourth film in history to generate more than $2 billion in worldwide box office.

Marvel will eventually produce a dud, but thus far, the studio's record is unblemished.