In the X-Men movie franchise, only X-Men: The Last Stand had a bigger opening weekend. It also opened on the Memorial Day four-day weekend, taking in $102.8 million over three days and $123 million over all four.
By comparison, the $91.4-million, three-day figure is just shy of the three-day opening weekend for Amazing Spider-Man 2 ($91.6 million), a film that’s expected to be the poorest performing Spider-Man movie to date. The three-day X-Men haul was also less than that of Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($95 million), a mid-range Marvel Studios movie.
This can make it seem like the Days of Future Past opening take isn’t a tremendous amount of money. But a bigger problem with such comparisons is that they ignore where the various franchises were at, when these films were released. In terms of their domestic takes, the Spider-Man franchise has seen a declining box office with every single installment; it’s still scoring impressive numbers but failing to match the franchise’s glory days.
In contrast, the X-Men franchise has ebbed and flowed, but it’s been in a state of decline since The Last Stand. The last two X-Men films — 2011′s X-Men: First Class and 2013′s The Wolverine — had opening weekends of $55 and $53 million, respectively. The opening for Days of Future Past is about 70% higher than these numbers, which is tremendously healthy for a seventh film in a franchise. In fact, the $111-million four-day total for Days of Future Past isn’t far off from the entire box-office take of The Wolverine ($132 million).
It used to be common wisdom that each movie in a series did poorer than the last. That’s no longer the case. It’s now often the case that movies tend to be rewarded or punished for their predecessor. In a world with movies on demand in so many formats and with such ease, movies are seen by many times more people than saw the film during its theatrical run. While Hollywood and the media place more emphasis on the theatrical run than ever, movies build their reputations through this larger audience, and this usually spurs people to see — or not to see — those movies’ sequels. (If you’re sometimes annoyed by the obsession with box-office returns, you can take solace in the fact that quality does have a financial impact — even if it’s largely on the sequel.)
This pattern is visible with past X-Men films, which initially grew over time, with X2 outperforming the original. The Last Stand may have had the biggest domestic box office, but few think it was the best installment; rather, people had seen the first two movies and wanted more. The next film, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, saw a drop for the first time in the franchise. Though it wasn’t a very good movie and suffered because it didn’t feature the rest of the X-Men, it was also paying the price for the lukewarm reception of The Last Stand. In turn, First Class paid the price for the previous film. First Class is often thought of as being among the best films in the series, but it had the worst box office. Two years later, the critical success of First Class wasn’t enough to shake off the bad vibe, and The Wolverine performed slightly worse than its predecessor — probably in part because it didn’t feature the X-Men and recalled the critical disaster that was the previous Wolverine solo film.
There’s no doubt that Days of Future Past had an excellent marketing campaign, with good trailers and diverse appearances by cast members. The union of the original cast with the First Class principals was undoubtedly a selling point, as was making Wolverine the main character in a high-stakes time-travel story. But one reason for the new film’s success is also the good will achieved by the two previous films.
The X-Men franchise has so far only had two directions: up (through The Last Stand) and down (through The Wolverine). Now it’s leaped up again. Not many franchises get a second life, but this one has. And given the good reviews of Days of Future Past, it’s a good bet that 2016′s X-Men: Apocalypse will perform well too, all things considered.
But there’s another factor worth considering. The international box office has become increasingly important, with great expansion of American distribution in Asia. With each year, it comprises a bigger and bigger share of American movie grosses, a pattern that’s been accelerating in recent years. Each X-Men movie has made a bigger percentage of its worldwide take from outside of America. X-Men Origins: Wolverine was the first to make more outside of the U.S. than in it. Fast forward to last year’s The Wolverine, and its domestic take was the worst of any X-Men film, but its worldwide take of $414 million not only put it above the previous two X-Men movies (X-Men Origins: Wolverine and First Class) but also the first two X-Men movies. Only The Last Stand beat it. In other words, The Wolverine was the worst of six domestically but in second place globally.
Through its opening four-day weekend, Days of Future Past has already made an estimated $302 million worldwide. So while Days of Future Past almost certainly won’t exceed The Last Stand domestically, it’s likely to exceed The Last Stand‘s worldwide total ($459 million).
Of course, none of the above accounts for inflation, nor how ticket prices have outpaced inflation (especially with the spread of 3D). Still, the X-Men franchise is even healthier when using global numbers. In fact, when using those numbers, the franchise’s dip after The Last Stand wasn’t nearly as severe, and the rebound began with The Wolverine, not the newest movie.