Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk, Thor, the Black Widow, and Hawkeye joined forces to battle evil (otherwise known as Loki) in this 2012 Marvel film that incited mixed reaction from fans and critics alike. Could director Joss Whedon convincingly weave multiple superhero storylines? Would the ensemble cast of heroes conjure up bad memories of bicker-filled family reunions? Or would it be a feel-good film about the fantastic nature of the good guys?
Skeptics wondered whether a film combining so many heroes would work, but Whedon packed in scene after scene that left audiences craving more and cemented America’s fascination with comic book movies. Sure, there were the flashy special effects and sleek superhero suits, but there were a lot of elements that set The Avengers apart and made it simultaneously the highest-grossing film of 2012 and one of the biggest American cinematic success stories. It’s No. 16 on our list of the top 20 Best Summer Blockbusters of All Time, and the formula that proved to be so successful for The Avengers has helped make Marvel films No. 1 time and time again since.
Release Date: May 4, 2012
The Competition: By getting ahead of the typical Memorial Day action releases, Disney captured audiences hungry for a popcorn flick when the only options were limited releases like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and horror flick Mother’s Day. It took another film with dudes in suits — the May 25 release of Men In Black 3 — to take down The Avengers’ back-to-back blockbuster weekends.
Box Office: $623 million domestic ($207 million opening weekend); $1.5 billion worldwide.
Positive reviews helped the film exceed studio and analyst expectations. The Avengers debuted to a massive $207 million, out-earning previous opening-weekend record-holder Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 ($169.2 million and our No. 17 all-time Summer Blockbuster). The film broke a handful of other records too: It reached $150 million in two days; became the fastest film to pass $300 million, in a mere nine days; and became the third-highest earning film worldwide right behind Titanic and Avatar. Perhaps most notably, The Avengers was the highest-grossing film of 2012, followed by The Dark Knight Rises ($448.1 million) and The Hunger Games ($408 million). The film — the first to be released by the Disney-acquired Marvel Studios — also shattered opening-weekend box office records in countries as far-flung as Malaysia, Hong Kong, and the United Arab Emirates.
What EW said: “In terms of storytelling, The Avengers is for the most part a highly functional, banged-together vehicle that runs on synthetic franchise fuel. Yet the grand finale of CGI action, set in the streets of New York, is — in every sense — smashing. True, it wouldn’t be out of place in a Michael Bay movie, but no Transformer was ever as transfixing as this leaping, flying, pummeling superteam. It makes you eager to see what they’ll do next, now that they’ve defeated a threat even bigger than their egos. B+” — Owen Gleiberman
Cultural Impact Then: Simply put, The Avengers was more than just sky worms and slick action sequences. Instead, the word “avenge” took on a whole new meaning when presented in a smart, tightly knit storyline that allowed the good guys to have fun and come into their own as full-fledged personalities. The success of The Avengers also gave Whedon a super-status in Hollywood, something his previous projects hadn’t afforded him. Following the film’s release, Marvel offered Whedon a three-year contract, ensuring the ongoing creative contributions of a bona fide A-lister respected by studio execs and comic book geeks alike.
Cultural Staying Power: This super-size film redefined the comic book genre by veering away from the usual action film formula and taking on deeper, smarter topics — like self-sacrifice, determination, self-awareness, feminism, and loss. Mammoth “save the day” moments will always be a fixture in comic book reboots, but thanks to The Avengers, so will a wink at a deeper type of drama often reserved for different genres.
Its commercial and financial success also helped bankroll subsequent Marvel offerings like Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, prompting execs over at rival studio Warner Bros. - DC Entertainment to rethink their action-flick offerings. Agent Coulson’s jaw-dropping death sequence in The Avengers also spawned the first-ever Marvel universe television series, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, which premiered on ABC in September. And the fun isn’t over just yet: A Whedon-directed sequel titled The Avengers: Age of Ultron is scheduled for theatrical release on May 1, 2015.