Yes, Ant-Man is Marvel’s lowest U.S. opening since the mostly-forgotten Incredible Hulk ($55.4 million), and even pales in comparison to some of the company’s non-Iron Man heavy hitters like Captain America: The First Avenger ($65 million) and Thor ($65 million). But, Marvel is in a very different place now than it was in 2011, pre-Avengers, and they’re heading in a direction in which a soft opening for someone like Ant-Man is still more than solid enough to build a franchise.
Though Guardians of the Galaxy managed to overcome its relatively obscure comic origins for a monster box office bow ($94 million), it was also buoyed by the space adventure concept that had been sorely lacking from the big screen at the time. Ant-Man also found the studio pitching something off-script, and though they built one heck of a fun superhero caper, it was a hard sell on week one. Despite that, it should still do well. Those U.S. numbers can be a bit misleading as far as the whole picture is concerned because, despite the weak domestic totals, Ant-Man is blowing up into a solid international success. Heck, it almost matched its domestic total with $56.4 million internationally for the opening weekend (more than Captain America and Thor, it’s worth noting).
There’s also the fact that Ant-Man is sitting at a rosy 79 percent and Certified Fresh at review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, not to mention an "A" CinemaScore from moviegoers. That means the film should have some staying power over the next several weeks, as word of mouth spreads and more people decide to give it a chance. Not bad for a flick haunted by behind-the-scenes drama and an eleventh hour director shake-up. It might take a while, but with the Marvel stamp on it, people will find it if it’s good. And this movie is really, really good.
This is a film that transcends the superhero genre, and despite the weird pitch (from an average movie-goer perspective), it’s a heck of a lot of fun. It’s Marvel breaking out of the mold they helped create, and Ant-Man is a big (pun intended) step in a new direction. Which is funny, considering its development dates back to before the MCU was a thing. Regardless: Add caper to the growing list of genres (political thriller, period-set action, space opera) Marvel can hit within the construct of a superhero story. It’s nice to know that between the regularly scheduled Avengers spectacles, we can still get a fun, small film to shake things up.
Looking to the wider world, the launch of Ant-Man also gives Marvel another established hero to bring into the MCU. As anyone who checked out Scott Lang’s inaugural adventure can attest, those seeds have already been sown quite well. We know Ant-Man is coming back in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, and that will only serve to give Paul Rudd’s pint-sized hero a much bigger audience and cultural awareness. So when a sequel does come up, it’ll almost certainly continue the Marvel trend of one-upping the original at the box office. The closing moments of Avengers: Age of Ultron made it clear that we’re in the midst of a major transition, and it’s nice to know we have some deserving heroes waiting in the wings to help fill the roster.
So don’t let the box office headlines fool you — Ant-Man is still destined for some very big things.