After a “strategic” month-long delay, the UK release of Ant-Man and the Wasp saw the third-lowest opening for any Marvel Studios movie, and failed to beat Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, which was in its third weekend at the box office. The staggered release, which also affected several other international markets, was intended to take Ant-Man and the Wasp out of competition with the FIFA World Cup and The Incredibles 2, and give it a clear run at the UK box office. However, the early numbers indicate that the delay wasn’t worth the frustration it engendered in UK fans, and may even have hurt the movie’s box office prospects.
Directed by Peyton Reed, Ant-Man and the Wasp is set before the events of this summer’s epic team-up Avengers: Infinity War, and was marketed as a light-hearted palette-cleanser. It was already starting off at something of a disadvantage, since Ant-Man (though undoubtedly successful) was one of the less popular Marvel solo movies, grossing a modest $519 million worldwide upon its release in 2015. Ant-Man and the Wasp pulled in $75 million in its domestic opening weekend, which kicked off on July 6, but its UK debut was a mere £3.8 million ($4.92 million). Including previews the movie managed £5 million ($6.5 million), but without them it got beaten to the #1 spot by Mamma Mia 2, which pulled in another £4.1 million ($5.3 million) in its third weekend at the box office.
The UK may not have the box office clout of China (where Ant-Man and the Wasp will finally release later this month), but as the fourth-largest film market in the world (per BFI), it definitely carries a lot of weight. The first Ant-Man grossed more than $25 million in the UK, accounting for about 5% of its worldwide total. More importantly, that movie’s UK opening weekend was $6.2 million, meaning that while Ant-Man and the Wasp‘s domestic opening weekend was bigger than the original, its performance at the UK box office is so far a significant step down. In fact, out of the 20 Marvel Cinematic Universe movies released so far, it has only managed to outperform The Incredible Hulk and Captain America: The First Avenger.
Admittedly Disney was in something of a lose-lose situation when it came to releasing Ant-Man and the Wasp in the UK. There’s no question that the World Cup does impact the box office, even if the extent of the impact is difficult to measure. According to Deadline, it’s estimated that the weekend box office can be down from 50-60% on weekends when the home team is playing and, for obvious reasons, it was impossible for Disney to know ahead of time if England would have a match or not on the weekend of July 6. As it turned out, they did – against Sweden – and that match ended up being pretty historic, with England’s win propelling them to the World Cup semi-finals for the first time in almost 30 years. There’s a good chance that releasing Ant-Man and the Wasp during his fervor would have done even more damage than releasing it a month later.
Another possible approach that Disney has taken in the past, of releasing Marvel movies a week or two early in the UK, also carried a risk. In the interests of getting out ahead of the big World Cup matches, Universal Pictures released Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom early in the UK, on June 11, and the blockbuster hit had a strong holdover throughout June. Giving Ant-Man and the Wasp a mere one- or two-week delay in the UK was equally no-go, since Disney had already delayed The Incredibles 2‘s UK release by a month, occupying the weekend of July 15.
In fact, that latter point may have been the real blunder here. The Incredibles 2 is a family movie with broad, built-in appeal, and previous instances have shown that Pixar movies can withstand months-long delays in the UK (2009’s Up was delayed by more than four months, but still grossed a healthy $55 million in the UK). When it comes to MCU movies, however, a big part of the promotion has to do with fan hype, speculation and discussion, particularly on the internet. The build-up of excitement happens on a global scale, not a local scale, and a greater desire to avoid spoilers – something that’s very difficult to do for a whole month, short of avoiding social media altogether.
Releasing Ant-Man and the Wasp during a World Cup summer may have been a lose-lose situation for Disney, but switching out its UK release date with The Incredibles 2 would probably have been the best chance at a win. At the very least, it doesn’t look like the month-long release delay was worth it at the UK box office, and it may actually have hurt it. With the online hype dying off quickly after the US release, and UK fans understandably frustrated by the long wait, it’s little wonder that Mamma Mia 2 remained the reigning champion for a third weekend running.