Welcome to 2017: the biggest and possibly best year ever for Marvel Studios

Source: Marvel Studios

Source: Marvel Studios

Marvel Studios has been one of the greatest success stories in all of cinema since launching its first film, Iron Man, in 2008. Under the leadership of studio president and producer Kevin Feige, Marvel Studios has amassed $10.9 billion worldwide (and counting) in just under nine years. Marvel Studios has set the standard for serialized, shared universe storytelling in movies with just about every other studio trying to play catch-up. The gap, however, is set to grow even wider as Marvel Studios prepares to have its biggest and possibly best year ever in 2017.

This year will be the first in which Marvel will release more than two films with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 in May, Spider-Man: Homecoming in July, and Thor: Ragnarok in November. In terms of the sheer quantity of movies released, 2017 will set a record for Marvel Studios and give the studio an inside track to break some its own box office records. Even with three films, though, breaking those records won’t come quite as easily as shouting “HULK SMASH!”

To date, Marvel’s biggest year at the domestic box office was 2015, in which Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man combined to earn $639.2 million. That was actually the first time Marvel’s domestic earnings topped the $623.4 million Marvel’s The Avengers brought in all by itself in 2012. The record could still be eclipsed by Marvel’s 2016 releases, however, with Doctor Strange still in theaters and thus far combining with Captain America: Civil War to haul in $638.4 million in North America.

Worldwide, 2015 is the record holder for Marvel Studios with $1.92 billion in global box office receipts. That record is likely safe from 2016, which sits in third place at $1.81 billion. Marvel Studios’ second biggest year at the global box office was 2013, in which Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World combined to earn $1.86 billion.

In order for 2017 to become Marvel Studios’ biggest year ever in North America, its three releases will have to average $213.1 million in domestic receipts. That average is based on the record established in 2015. It will obviously go up a bit if 2016 sets a new record before Doctor Strange leaves theaters for good.

To set a new worldwide record for the studio, Marvel’s three releases will have to average $641.6 million at the global box office. This isn’t Monopoly money we’re playing with, as the global and domestic averages needed to set a new records will require all three 2017 Marvel films to be successful. Based on Marvel Studios’ track record and the historical performances of the franchises involved, however, there is cause to be supremely confident.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is the sequel to a film that made $333.2 million domestically and $773.3 million worldwide. While GotG Vol. 2 may be the fifteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is still only the second film in its individual franchise. Most or all of its characters will not have appeared in other Marvel films since Guardians of the Galaxy was released in 2014, so there’s little concern audiences will feel any sense of fatigue going into Vol. 2.

The overwhelmingly positive reception for the first film and the youth of the franchise are big factors, but it’s still essential that audiences be excited about what they will actually see in the new movie. Fortunately, this is another point of strength for GotG Vol. 2 with just about everybody praising the first teaser trailer for the film and already falling in love with Baby Groot.

Audiences are ready to see whatever director James Gunn has in store for them, which should propel GotG Vol. 2 above the box office totals of its predecessor. Even a worst case scenario would likely put Vol. 2 at or slightly below the totals of the first film, which would still be well above domestic and global box office averages needed to make 2017 Marvel’s biggest year ever. It should have little trouble making enough money to even cover for one or both of the movies coming after it, should they need the help.

Spider-Man: Homecoming, like GotG Vol. 2, has already impressed with an outstanding teaser trailer. It also has the momentum of the title character’s (Tom Holland) universally praised appearance in Captain America: Civil War. If that wasn’t enough, it just so happens to be the start of a new era for one of the most successful individual superhero franchises of all time.

Before continuing, a bit of housekeeping by acknowledging that which is obvious. Spider-Man: Homecoming is being distributed by Sony Pictures, not Marvel Studios’ parent company, Disney. All of Homecoming‘s box office will count toward Sony’s global receipts for 2017 with Disney laying claim to none of it. Still, the movie is being made by Marvel Studios, so it can and should be counted in Marvel’s performance just as all MCU movies prior to Marvel’s The Avengers, the first Marvel Studios film distributed by Disney, are counted in Marvel Studios’ $10.9 billion lifetime total.

The Spider-Man franchise has been huge since the first film was released in 2002. Through five films, Sony has averaged $315.7 million domestic and $792.7 million per film. Those numbers do not necessarily reflect the current state of the franchise, however, as the averages are bolstered by Sam Raimi’s three films starring Tobey Maguire. The more recent pair of Marc Webb films starring Andrew Garfield averaged a more modest $232.4 million domestic and $733.5 million.

There’s also the lingering effect of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to consider. Critics had even less love for the film than Spider-Man 3, which most fans consider the worst movie in the franchise. Mainstream audiences backed critics on The Amazing Spider-Man 2, spending less money on it domestically and worldwide than they ever had on any other Spider-Man film. The distaste for the film was a major factor in the now completed deal with Marvel Studios being something Sony would even consider.

We won’t really know if Spider-Man’s appearance in Captain America: Civil War was enough to make audiences forget all about the character’s last solo cinematic adventure until July. Any lingering hesitation on the part of audiences will likely be overcome by Homecoming not only taking up space in the MCU, but also borrowing its face. Spider-Man: Homecoming has an Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) kicker with the character being advertised, both in and out of his suit, in the first teaser.

The momentum carried over from Captain America: Civil War and the presence of Iron Man should be enough to lift Spider-Man: Homecoming to, at minimum, the box office averages of the Webb era. As long as the movie is as good as it looks, it’s more likely that the MCU infusion given to the franchise will bring it back within range of its averages during the Raimi era. In either case, Spider-Man: Homecoming is going to hold up its end of the bargain, just like GotG Vol. 2, leaving plenty of cushion for Thor: Ragnarok.

Source: Marvel Studios

On the surface, it might look like The God of Thunder will need that cushion. There’s no need to average the first two Thor films, since one was before Marvel’s The Avengers and the other came after. The character and franchise awareness for the two films aren’t really comparable. One thing worth noting, however, is that of all the characters who had at least one solo film before and after The Avengers, Thor saw the smallest bump. Thor: The Dark World took in $644.6 million in 2013, up from Thor‘s $449.3 million in 2011, but the growth wasn’t quite as good as the Captain America and Iron Man franchises experienced.

No Marvel movie has been received poorly by critics, but Thor: The Dark World might be their least favorite. It usually ends up at or near the bottom of any list ranking MCU movies. On top of that, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) muscled through a subplot that is widely considered one of the weaker points of Avengers: Age of Ultron. The character just hasn’t had the kind of all-out smash hit that Iron Man and Cap have enjoyed.

If Thor: Ragnarok can match or at least come close to the domestic ($206.4 million) and global totals of Thor: The Dark World, then GotG Vol. 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming will easily make up the rest to give Marvel Studios’ its biggest box office year ever. The cushion will be there, but if we stop looking so much at the past and look toward the future, Thor: Ragnarok may not need the help, at all.

Thor: Ragnarok is the third film in the franchise, but it may end up feeling like a new first. Director Taika Waititi is the freshest, coolest voice to come into the superhero genre since James Gunn started telling a story about intergalactic misfits. Waititi’s last two films, What We Do in the Shadows (2015) and Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016), are among the best films of their respective years. Hunt for the Wilderpeople was actually my favorite film of 2016.

Waititi is going to do something completely different that audiences have not seen with Thor: Ragnarok. Also, the film will have a pair of MCU box office kickers with Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) both slated to appear. Everyone’s favorite MCU baddie, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), will be back as well, which should help draw in more than enough moviegoers for Thor: Ragnarok to cover its end of the necessary box office averages.

Aside from the unlikely event that these movies are creatively disappointing, there should be no reason to expect 2017 to be anything less than Marvel Studios’ biggest year ever at the box office, both domestically and worldwide. In all likelihood, this will be Marvel Studios’ first $2-billion year at the worldwide box office.

Of course, 2017 should be Marvel’s biggest year in total box office revenue since it is set to be the biggest year in terms of the number of films released. The records for average domestic and global box office revenue per film will probably remain in 2012 for all eternity. Marvel Studios only released one film, Marvel’s The Avengers, which brought in and thus set the domestic and worldwide averages at $623.4 million and $1.52 billion, respectively. Counting only years in which Marvel Studios has released more than one film, 2015 has the best domestic and worldwide per film averages at $319.6 million and $962.4 million, respectively. Again, that domestic average could be beaten by 2016 depending on how Doctor Strange finishes.

In a year without an Avengers film, it’s tough to bet three movies will average $319.6 million domestic and $962.4 million worldwide. Doing so would net Marvel Studios over $950 million domestic and just under $2.9 billion worldwide. I wouldn’t consider either of those totals impossible, but they’re well above where Marvel would need to be in order for 2017 to be a massive success. Having its highest annual box office totals domestically and globally will be more than enough, especially if 2017 proves to be Marvel Studios’ best year in addition to its biggest.

Creatively, it will take a lot for Marvel Studios to top its own 2014 and 2016. Each of those years saw Marvel Studios release a pair of films that drew very strong critical praise and big box office dollars. It’s a difficult task, but not impossible. James Gunn considers Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 his favorite movie and, presumably, better than the first film. He set out to make the greatest spectacle of all time and if he even gets close enough to sniff that goal, 2017 will be ahead of the game.

Spider-Man: Homecoming already looks great and has the perfect Peter Parker in Tom Holland. Beyond Iron Man, it has an outstanding cast that includes Michael Keaton as the villainous Vulture. Director Jon Watts is a great filmmaker and one has to believe that Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige has been ready and waiting to make a great Spider-Man film once he could finally get the character in the MCU.

Thor: Ragnarok is the 2017 Marvel movie we know the least about, but it’s the one that has me the most excited. The concept art Marvel Studios showed off inside Hall H at Comic-Con last July was a Walt Simonson dream come true. Taika Waititi is the perfect choice to make the kind of all-out, crazy, cosmic Thor film fans have been waiting for and I’ve heard nothing but great things about Ragnarok throughout its production in the second half of 2016. I have a feeling it could be every bit as good as some of Marvel’s best films.

We will have to see how the year shakes out in the end, but going in, Marvel Studios appears set to have its biggest year ever at the box office and perhaps earn every penny with a stronger slate of films than any previous year in the studio’s history.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is in theaters May 5, 2017.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is in theaters July 7, 2017.

Thor: Ragnarok is in theaters November 3, 2017.

Related: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Movies Spider-Man: Homecoming Thor: Ragnarok