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This weekend Avengers: Endgame returns to theaters worldwide with the promise of an 18-second introduction by director Anthony Russo, and a post-credit scene that includes “an unfinished deleted scene,” and a glimpse at Spider-Man: Far From Home. It’s a big to-do for what seemingly will amount to very little. But rereleases are commonplace to modern moviegoers, and regardless of the quality of these theatrical bonus features, fans will certainly make their presence known. Fans are really what the rerelease of Endgame is relying on, if you can truly call it a rerelease given that the original cut is still playing in many theaters. Ultimately, the wide rerelease of this new version of Endgame is a thinly veiled attempt by Marvel Studios to unseat the highest-grossing movie of all time, Avatar (2009), which has held the crown for almost 10 years. Going into the weekend, Endgame needed about $38 million to cross the threshold, and now sits about $27 million shy, with box office experts doubtful it will close that gap anytime in the immediate future.
As much contention as there is online about whether Marvel Studios’ strategy is “fair,” whatever that means in the scheme of a massive corporation that now benefits from both Avatar and Endgame, there’s no denying that this quick rerelease format has been a long time coming. Over the past decade or so, we’ve seen The Dark Knight (2008) rereleased in January 2009, a couple months after leaving theaters, so that its worldwide total of $997 million could reach $1 billion dollars. In August of 2010, James Cameron rereleased Avatar (2009) with nine minutes of additional footage. The rerelease added $33 million to what was already the highest grossing film of all time, not adjusted for inflation. $33 million in 2009 is ironically just about the amount Avengers: Endgame needs to surpass Avatar. All is fair in love and war, and studio rereleases tend to be a combination of the two.
While there’s little hiding the goal of this rerelease, Endgame isn’t the first big-budget film to use a rerelease within short order of its initial release to hit a box office milestone. In fact, Disney has enjoyed the lucrative successes of rereleases for many of its films, going all the way back to the first of many rereleases of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) in 1944. MGM’s Gone with the Wind (1939), which still remains the highest grossing film of all time when adjusted for inflation, also enjoyed the benefit of numerous rereleases, notably in 1942, 1954, 1961, 1967, 1971, 1974, 1989, and 2014. It’s a testament to the cultural phenomena these movies have remained over the decades. Many rereleases like The Godfather (1972), Jaws (1975), Star Wars (1979) E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) followed what had already been a lengthy original theatrical run. With films staying in theaters for nearly a year, films had more time to add to their box office total.
But today, the first two weeks are do or die in terms of seeing whether a film has legs. And with the physical release schedule, even the most successful films aren’t in theaters for more than three months at most, if we’re talking big megaplexes. The age of a cultural cinema phenomenon has dwindled, and with the easy access to physical media and streaming services, rereleases have to be driven by something other than enthusiastic reception. As much as these release decisions are centered around money, there has often been a creative element, perhaps secondary in nature, but present nonetheless.
Whether we’re talking 70mm prints, restorations, 3D enhancements or director’s cut, there’s often been something to draw us back to theaters. The Star Wars trilogy is perhaps the most notable example of a creative draw, despite how controversial those special additions proved to be. Titanic got in on the 3D craze with a rerelease supervised by James Cameron. And then there’s the rereleases of a smaller scale and cult variety like the final cut of Blade Runner (1982), and the 4K restoration of Suspiria (1977). As it becomes harder and harder to convince people to go to the theater, rereleases have had to offer additions that tread the line between creative elements and financial ones. It’s here we have the emergence of sing-a-long events, utilized most recently for Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), and marathons like those proceeding entries of Harry Potter or the MCU. Marvel Studios’ Endgame rerelease is barely straddling that line, if at all. It’s providing something extra, unlike The Dark Knight rerelease almost 10 years before, but like Nolan’s film the goal of Endgame is to reach a milestone. Thus the enticing element to draw audiences back into theaters is to make them feel like they are contributing to a piece of history, regardless of how many times they’ve seen the film before.
Starting in 1964, Stan Lee implemented a joke he called the “Marvel No-Prize,” a fake award given to those who spotted continuity errors in the comics. This evolved over the years as Lee would ask the readers’ questions, or to explain why a so-called continuity error was not actually an error. It was a way for Stan Lee, every comics reader’s pal, to lightly tell fans to loosen up, but it also the means that Stan Lee, the consummate business man, brought attention to Marvel Comics and sent fans picking up issues and scouring them for mistakes. The rerelease of Avengers: Endgame is the latest iteration of the “Marvel No-Prize.” Yes, it allows fans to see a movie they greatly enjoyed once again, but perhaps more importantly it asks them to get invested in a financial milestone they aren’t benefitting from. But a “Marvel No-Prize” is better than no prize at all, right? Marvel Studios has managed to re-introduce the rerelease as a competitive form of entertainment. Regardless of how unnecessary it is, or how little audiences can get out of a rerelease of a film that hits VOD and Blu-ray in August, it certainly seems like good business.
June 30, 3:25 p.m. Updated with weekend numbers from the Endgame rerelease.
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