In the months before its release, people predicted that Captain Marvel would fail. They had no stats to back this up, of course. The actual calculated predictions promised a high turn-out, but people on the Internet loudly and angrily predicted the film would be the Marvel Cinematic Universe's first big bomb.
Yet Captain Marvel, the 21st film in the MCU, has made over a billion dollars world-wide -- earning more than a film critics have loved from the start: The Dark Knight. Regardless of your opinion of the film, that's significant. Many people have brushed off its success, saying that an MCU film would naturally make this much money, but that ignores that Captain Marvel has outgrossed Thor: Ragnorak, Guardians of the Galaxy, and every Spider-Man film.
So what should we take away from this?
The Changing Market
It is important to note a few things before proceeding; mainly, when accounting for inflation, films like The Dark Knight grossed more than Captain Marvel has... so far.
Domestically, The Dark Knight earned $535 million to Captain Marvel's $374 million (as of this writing). Adjusted for inflation, The Dark Knight's earnings come in around $672 million, which would put it above even Avengers: Infinity War's domestic box office.
But domestic box office doesn't matter as much as it used to.
The bulk of The Dark Knight's gross came from the United States, but Marvel appeals to an international audience. With $663 million earned thus far on the foreign market, Captain Marvel's foreign gross will overshadowThe Dark Knight's adjusted domestic box office, probably within a week.
Our first lesson from Carol Danver's ascent is that what American audiences like matters far less. America made The Dark Knight a financial success. The world has done that for Captain Marvel.
That isn't to say that the American market doesn't matter at all, of course. Black Panther is one of the highest grossing films of all time because of its overwhelming American box office numbers. But this is another point in Carol Danvers' favor: diversity.
Diverse storytelling is good for everyone. It offers fresh new stories that give fans new material, heroes and villains who are different from what came before. Stuff that's familiar becomes special again, and stuff that's new becomes a billion-dollar idea. After all, before Captain Marvel released, the hero was a virtual unknown in the mainstream market.
Carol Danvers is one of a few female superheroes to lead in her own film. Like Wonder Woman before, Captain Marvel offers girls a chance to identify directly with the hero. Actress Brie Larson made several powerful statements reinforcing the importance of adding more voices to the table. She has been often misquoted, so perhaps her inclusive statement should be repeated right here, in full:
"About a year ago, I started paying attention to what my press days looked like and the critics reviewing movies, and noticed it appeared to be overwhelmingly white male. So, I spoke to Dr. Stacy Smith at the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, who put together a study to confirm that. Moving forward, I decided to make sure my press days were more inclusive. After speaking with you, the film critic Valerie Complex and a few other women of color, it sounded like across the board they weren’t getting the same opportunities as others. When I talked to the facilities that weren’t providing it, they all had different excuses."
The inclusive message both Larson and her film embody has spoken to a lot of otherwise marginalized people. The film embodies the idea that people knocked down over and over again should get back up and succeed on their terms, even as society slams doors shut in their faces. People who can relate to that idea feel very strongly about the film.
However, let's address the ugly elephant in the room.
Most films featuring a diverse lead face some level of backlash. Racists lambasted Wonder Woman and Black Panther, raged when Michael B. Jordan was cast as Johnny Storm, and still scream about Star Wars's Rey being a Mary Sue.
That said, the backlash against Captain Marvel somehow seems worse, and it isn't slowing down, even after the film out-grossed The Dark Knight. But why this film in particular? And has it affected the box office?
There is a small but loud portion of comic fans who hate change. More specifically, they hate no longer being the target audience of every form of media out there. Captain Marvel directly criticizes sexism in society. Its star is outspoken about social issues. This, combined with marketing that emphasized the film's social agenda, put a demographic composed primarily of cis heterosexual white men, who expect all media to be directed toward them, on the defense.
Trolls review bombed Rotten Tomatoes, harassed Brie Larson and enthusiastic fans, spread misinformation about the film and, after the film came out, criticized the film for being anti-male for various "anti-male scenes," including a moment of Nick Fury watching dishes.
Ironically, it was the radicalized opposition to Captain Marvel and Brie Larson that turned watching the film into a political statement in favor of women and against sexism. And many of the haters, despite their protests, went to see the film too, in order to fuel their hatred. In the end, the hatred directed at Captain Marvel helped it become a massive box office hit -- one that may end up being even bigger than Batman, in the end.