LOS ANGELES • After a four-month absence from theatres, Walt Disney Studios has released Thor: Ragnarok to resounding success and taught rival studios a lesson about how to approach sequels.
Thor: Ragnarok, the latest film from Disney-owned Marvel Studios, took in an estimated US$121 million (S$165 million) on 4,080 screens in North America over the weekend. That total was colossal even by superhero standards - about 42 per cent higher than opening-weekend results for Doctor Strange, released last year, and 3 per cent higher than what Spider-Man: Homecoming initially managed earlier this year.
Directed by Taika Waititi, an eccentric New Zealand film-maker whose previous three movies played in art houses and collected a grand total of US$9.5 million, Thor: Ragnarok has taken in US$306 million more overseas for a worldwide total of US$427 million, Disney said on Sunday. The film, starring Chris Hemsworth and Cate Blanchett, cost an estimated US$180 million to make, not including at least US$100 million in marketing costs.
Interest in Thor: Ragnarok has been sizzling since Disney released a teaser trailer in April. In early September, an informal moviegoer poll conducted by Fandango, an online ticket seller, found that Waititi's film was the most anticipated offering of the autumn - a surprise to Hollywood, which had expected Justice League, produced by Warner Bros and set for a Nov 17 release, to easily dominate. (It was second.)
At first, few had been crying out for another Thor sequel. Marvel's second standalone film about the character, Thor: The Dark World, took in US$645 million worldwide in 2013. But critics were lukewarm, the production was marked by behind-the-scenes creative clashes and one star, Natalie Portman, did not want to return.
Instead of taking the usual route with third chapters in successful Hollywood franchises - Who cares about making a good movie? Take the money and run! - Marvel movie chief Kevin Feige decided to radically retool the Thor series. With input from Hemsworth, Thor: Ragnarok became less serious and much more comedic, leaning into the absurdity of the main character, a beefcake god who carries a magic hammer and travels by rainbows.
Blanchett was cast as a campy villain, Hela, who sprouts antlers when she is mad. And Waititi was allowed to run wild, backing outerspace action sequences involving a marauding Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) with Immigrant Song, Led Zeppelin's heavy-metal anthem from 1970.
Most critics responded with euphoric reviews. Ticket buyers gave Thor: Ragnarok an A grade in CinemaScore exit polls.