For fans of superhero and fantasy fiction, this weekend is like Christmas and the Super Bowl combined. Wait, it actually may be bigger than the Super Bowl.
Avengers: Endgame, the hotly anticipated conclusion of the first 11 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, begins rolling out in previews tonight before opening nationwide -- and worldwide -- on Friday. By most accounts, it will unseat 2018's Avengers: Infinity War to claim the biggest opening weekend in box office history. But if that weren't enough, the premiere of Endgame will be followed Sunday by the third episode of Game of Thrones' final season, a movie-length installment of the hit HBO series that pits the united forces at Winterfell against the Night King's army of the dead.
Each would be an epic event on its own, but when placed together in a single weekend, they transcend such labels to become something akin to an international holiday ... for nerds, at least. (Yes, Gotham's series finale also airs tonight but, come on, it's not in the same league.)
But is the combined impact of Avengers: Endgame and Game of Thrones bigger than the Super Bowl? Culturally, sure, at least in the short term. The uninspired showdown between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams pales in comparison to either the re-match between Earth's Mightiest Heroes and Thanos -- with nothing less than the fate of the universe at stake -- or the Battle of Winterfell, where an uneasy alliance of mankind makes its first stand against an almost-unimaginable supernatural threat.
If there's still such an indicator as "water-cooler talk," the more than three-hour Endgame and 1-hour-and-22-minute Game of Thrones episode (the longest of the entire series) will no doubt dominate workplace, and online, conversation for days, and weeks, to come. And, keep in mind, Game of Thrones still has another three episodes, of nearly the same length, to go before its watch is ended.
By comparison, Super Bowl LIII was barely a blip.
It was not only the lowest-scoring Super Bowl in history (New England won, 13-3), but also the lowest-rated in 10 years, with 98 million viewers. Even die-hard Patriots fans have to concede the game held all of the excitement of dirty dishrag.
Game of Thrones, by contrast, attracted a record 17.4 million viewers with its final season premiere, in the United States alone. The audience dipped to 15.9 million for the second episode, amid complaints about slow pacing, but that number will no doubt rise significantly on Sunday with a confrontation that stands to rival the celebrated "Battle of the Bastards" from Season 6.
That doesn't approach the viewership of Super Bowl LIII, as anemic as it was (although we should keep in mind the Big Game was broadcast, for free, on CBS; you have to subscribe to HBO). But that's where Avengers: Endgame comes in.
The most recent projections place the Marvel Studios on track to earn between $260 million and $285 million in its domestic opening weekend, surpassing Infinity War's $257.7 million for an industry record. It's a little tricky to translate that figure into actual viewers, but if we use the estimated average movie ticket price of $9.03, we end up with about 29 million people -- for the low end of the projected opening. (Yes, plenty of fans will undoubtedly see Endgame multiple times this weekend, but play along.)
However, that's only for the United States and Canada. Endgame already shattered opening-day records in China, where it could rack up as much as $280 million in its first weekend of release. Worldwide, that could mean an opening frame of between $940 million and $950 million, although less-conservative industry analysts are placing that number at $1 billion.
Pinning down average ticket prices for film markets around the globe is a task as seemingly impossible as undoing the snap that wiped out half of all life in the universe, or defeating an undead army that can replenish its ranks with fallen enemies. But it's probably safe to say that, between Endgame's (conservatively) projected $940 million global opening and a Game of Thrones viewership that will likely inch closer to that of the Season 8 premiere, the two pop-culture giants will have a larger audience than that of Super Bowl LIII.
And, considering that, two weeks from now, there's a good chance more people will be to tell you which heroes died in the rematch with Thanos, or who was cut down during the Battle of Winterfell, than who played in Super Bowl LIII, the pop-culture footprint of Avengers: Endgame and Game of Thrones is far, far greater.
Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, Avengers: Endgame stars Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Chris Evans as Captain America, Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Brie Larson as Captain Marvel, Paul Rudd as Ant-Man, Don Cheadle as War Machine, Karen Gillan as Nebula, Danai Gurira as Okoye and Bradley Cooper as Rocket, with Gwyneth Paltrow Pepper Potts, Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan, Benedict Wong as Wong, Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie and Josh Brolin as Thanos. The film opens Friday worldwide.
Airing Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO, Game of Thrones stars Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister, Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister, Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen, Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark, Maisie Williams as Arya Stark and Kit Harington as Jon Snow.