Earth’s mightiest heroes assembled at the box office this weekend, and the result was historic. Avengers: Infinity War secured both the best domestic box office opening of all time with $250 million—surpassing Star Wars: The Force Awakens when adjusted for inflation—and the best worldwide debut at $630 million, passing The Fate of the Furious’ $541.9 million by a considerable margin. The global gross for Infinity War is particularly impressive since the film won’t open in China, one of the world’s biggest markets, until May 11.
As the 19th installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which began in 2008 with the Robert Downey Jr.–led Iron Man, Infinity War packed a literal decade’s worth of universe-building into this weekend—a crossover event that Disney unironically dubbed as “the most ambitious crossover event in history.” It might not be that ambitious—the memes teasing the company’s proclamation were great, however—but the undertaking was undeniably impressive.
Infinity War managed to incorporate dozens of heroes introduced across the MCU over the past 10 years, from the far reaches of space (the Guardians of the Galaxy), Norse mythology (Thor), and Queens (Spider-Man), while also finally and properly introducing Thanos, a long-hyped villain with godlike powers and a purplish likeness to one Josh Brolin. Infinity War’s Rotten Tomatoes score from critics currently sits at 84 percent—slightly above the MCU average of 83.8 percent, which is very good and “certified fresh”—while the film’s CinemaScore held an “A” rating from audiences, a score that only trails the “A+” grades given to Black Panther and the first Avengers movie. In short: There were a lot of moving pieces to Infinity War, but most viewers (and critics) came away satisfied.
Along with the historic numbers of Black Panther from earlier this year—and by the way, Black Panther jumped to no. 5 at the box office this weekend, piggybacking off of Infinity War’s hype to secure another $4.38 million domestically—Marvel has dominated the box office in 2018, and much of the past decade. The MCU’s total gross sits at $15.5 billion, and counting. MCU movies account for six of the 10 highest-grossing superhero movies ever, and Infinity War should soon join them. We’re nearly 20 movies into the MCU, and superhero fatigue has yet to set in. And after two consecutive record-breaking releases, it’s fair to question if it ever will—the MCU, like Thanos, is only getting stronger.
Marvel has been able to avoid franchise fatigue—with the exception of a couple of hiccups, like whatever the hell Thor: The Dark World was—by incorporating more auteurist visions to its films in recent years. Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther all came from lesser-known indie directors in Jon Watts, Taika Waititi, and Ryan Coogler, respectively—they stuck to the Marvel playbook, while putting their own spin on proceedings. (Watching Ragnarok after the first Thor movies is like following up Hamlet with Scott Pilgrim.) Captain Marvel, which will introduce Brie Larson’s eponymous hero next year, comes from directorial duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, whose highest-grossing indie film earned less than $7 million. These are calculated risks that—with the exception of Edgar Wright’s departure from Ant-Man—have proved to be successful, and which other superhero franchises are hoping to imitate.
Infinity War doesn’t fit that mold, but as a ginormous crossover, the film casts the widest net—if the Guardians movies aren’t your thing but you need to see all things Iron Man, you’re still going to catch Infinity War. What’s just as impressive: Infinity War is a perfect advertisement for its sequel. Because the movie ends on a franchise-shifting cliffhanger, anyone who sees it is probably going to catch the sequel in 2019.
While the ending is, and the stakes of Infinity War are, essentially meaningless, the cyclical nature of the MCU means that more films are impending—and will keep coming if the demand continues to be this high. Ant-Man and the Wasp arrives in July, and while it might not reach the groundbreaking numbers of Infinity War and Black Panther, it will be legitimately shocking if the movie doesn’t perform well. MCU mastermind Kevin Feige has been tight-lipped about the franchise’s “Phase 4”—in other words, where this universe is heading after the Infinity War sequel—but we do know that plenty more Marvel movies are coming. While a third Guardians movie and a Spider-Man sequel are the only confirmed movies for the next phase of the MCU, a Black Panther sequel announcement is merely a formality (that’s what happens when you make more domestic dough than Titanic). And if Disney’s recent acquisition of 21st Century Fox goes through, Marvel will have the rights to heroes like the X-Men and Fantastic Four, which means the MCU superhero net could be cast even wider. The MCU won’t be slowing down anytime soon—but that’s just what happens when a supplier is meeting demands that are clearly only getting fiercer.