Well, this isn't going to make Dwayne Johnson very happy. Walt Disney and Marvel just announced that Avengers: Infinity War will be opening everywhere, all over the world, on April 27, 2018. That's about when it was going to open in much of the world in a standard MCU overseas rollout, but the change means that North American audiences get it a week early as well. That's horrible news for A) Dwayne Johnson's Rampage which opens (for now) on April 20 and B) STX and Amy Schumer's I Feel Pretty which probably thought it had that Other Woman/Baby Mama pre-summer slot wrapped up.
This is a huge change both for the overall summer schedule and for the MCU release schedule. At a glance, there are four reasons for this shift, none of them particularly conspiratorial.
1. This gives them an extra week before Deadpool 2.
When Fox moved Deadpool 2 (or whatever it ends up being called) from June 2 to May 18, many of us saw it as a direct attack (or at least a challenge) to Solo: A Star Wars Story. But it also plopped two of the year's biggest comic book superhero movies into the same month. So, at the very least, this gives Tony Stark and friends some room before Wade Wilson and Cable show up. Granted, I'm sure both big flicks can co-exist, but this is probably good news for both parties. It also means that I may have to revise my thoughts about A) April being a relatively quiet pre-summer jaunt and B) Rampage being the biggest earner of the month.
This also leaves the key early May slot without a major movie, and I'm curious to see if any other studio will dare stand against the second weekend of Infinity War. But considering the history of smaller female-led comedies and dramas flourishing over the second weekend of summer (which is usually Mother's Day), I wouldn't be shocked to see I Feel Pretty move back a week and open on May 4th. As for Rampage… yeah, your guess is as good as mine. Maybe The Rock and his giant monsters will stay put, but we'll see.
2. It gives Solo: A Star Wars Story an extra week of marketing space.
We are reaching a point where the biggest competition for Walt Disney blockbuster offerings are other Walt Disney blockbuster offerings. We got Thor: Ragnarok, Coco and The Last Jedi within about six weeks of each other last year, and we got Doctor Strange, Moana and Rogue One within the same holiday stretch in 2016. Right now, the biggest competition for Walt Disney's Black Panther is Walt Disney's Wrinkle in Time opening next weekend. Sure, if the films are well-received and profits are made, then this is more about market share domination than making sure each big movie grosses as much as possible. But since Disney is willing to start the summer a little early, they are giving their Star Wars Story, which opens over Memorial Day weekend, a month of space.
Even if Infinity War is super leggy, it will be somewhat played out by the time the Han Solo flick takes priority. Even The Avengers had already earned around 90% of its $623 million domestic gross by the end of its fourth week in theaters. This move allows Disney to devote more attention to both summer biggies, which is arguably more to Solo‘s benefit than Infinity War‘s. So this ought to be to rest any talk of Disney moving Solo out of its Memorial Day slot, as it's full-speed ahead after this.
3. Disney and Marvel want the world record for a global opening weekend.
Consider this revenge for Universal/Comcast Corp.'s Fate of the Furious breaking The Force Awakens‘ global opening weekend record just under a year ago. The eighth Fast and Furious movie opened around the world in April 2017 with a whopping $532 million worldwide in 63 markets, bigger than The Force Awakens‘ $529m global opening in December 2017. Since the MCU flicks usually spread out their debuts over a week or two, that wasn't necessarily on the table until an hour ago.
I'm not going to sit here and argue that a new global debut record is a done deal, but that has to be at least part of the thought process here. Ironically, the last time a super-duper movie opened in late April was Universal's Fast Five in 2011, which kickstarted the summer with an $85 million debut weekend one week before Marvel's Thor opened with $65m. The goodwill earned by the MCU overall and by Black Panther only makes this a more appetizing proposition, along with the whole “casual fans who checked out years ago show up for the finale” appeal. Could we see a $550m global debut in late April?
In the past, Disney and Marvel haven't necessarily cared about MCU spoilers ending up online via Wikipedia or the like when said films debut overseas first. Yet, by coincidence or design, the global debut of this specific would-be climax is going to be that much less spoiled by paying audiences when it opens around the world at essentially the same time. Sure, reviews will (presumably) be out beforehand, but most critics aren't going to give away the heart-stopping sequence where Thanos blows up Tony Stark (thus saving Marvel hundreds-of-millions of dollars in Phase Four expenses) or the third-act beat where Hugh Jackman's Wolverine shows up in yellow spandex to save the day, so the bigger concern is general audience leaks. I don't necessarily think this was a prime reason (did knowing that Coulson died before The Avengers opened affect the box office in any palatable fashion?), this does seem to be a case where Disney is treating an MCU flick like a Star Wars movie. Let's just hope they let the press see this one before (or during) CinemaCon.
What does this mean?
Well, aside from the factors discussed above, this throws the April release schedule into comparative chaos, especially for the Warner Bros./Time Warner Inc. Dwayne Johnson video game adaptation. If there is a downside, it's that Avengers: Infinity War will now have that much fewer weekdays where the kids are mostly out of school, which can make a difference even as the industry embraces year-round tentpoles. That's partially why Jurassic World ended up bigger (and leggier) than The Avengers. And it's why, if we can count late December holidays in the same category as summer weekdays, why The Last Jedi is still running ahead of Black Panther. Blockbuster season may now be year-round, but having the kids out of school is still a boost.
It's a gutsy move, even if Avengers: Infinity War could probably snag a $200 million+ opening weekend in the post-Thanksgiving slot if Disney went that route. And it again shines a light on the sheer amount of big offerings that Walt Disney tends to pack together, to the point where Disney is becoming its own biggest competition. And if the line between summer blockbusters and offseason tentpoles becomes blurrier and blurrier, you can expect more weird release dates like this one, as getting breathing room before or after the other biggies becomes a top priority.
So, yeah, in 2018, the year of the year-round blockbuster schedule, summer begins in late April. There's something… appropriate about that. The Russo Bros.' Avengers: Infinity War, starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pratt, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hiddleston, Zoe Saldana, Chadwick Boseman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Jeremy Renner, Josh Brolin, Tessa Thompson, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle and a host of others, now opens April 27, 2018, around the world. As always, we'll see.