Was 'Ant-Man and the Wasp' delayed in the UK because of the World Cup?

Tom Butler
Senior Editor
Evangeline Lilly and Paul Rudd as the Wasp and Ant-Man (Disney)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or you just don’t give two hoots about sport, you can’t have failed to notice that there’s a World Cup coming this summer.

Kicking off with Russia vs Saudi Arabia on 14 June, the 2018 Russian World Cup will play out over the summer, culminating with the live final on 15 July. It’s a huge chunk of summer dedicated to kicking a pig skin around a pitch, and it’s already having a global impact, particularly on filmgoers here in the UK.

Summer blockbuster season seems to get underway earlier and earlier every year, and the World Cup seems to have intensified this further. Traditional summer fare like Rampage, Avengers: Infinity War, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Deadpool 2, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom are all hitting cinemas in quick succession ahead of the opening match in June, which means there’s a surfeit of choice for film fans at the multiplexes.

However, there also seems to be a negative impact felt too. Disney, a studio that’s pushed for single global release windows for its live action films over the last few years, isn’t releasing Ant-Man and the Wasp and Incredibles 2 until after the World Cup has ended.

UK audiences have to wait until July 13 to see Incredibles 2, a month after its US release on June 15. Even more annoyingly for Marvel fans though, the UK has to wait until 3 August for Ant-Man and the Wasp, a whole month after it opens in the US on 6 July, mid-way through the “soccer” tournament that America is largely ambivalent towards.

The thinking being, presumably, that people in the UK just don’t want to go to the cinema and watch movies when there’s real-life drama playing out on football pitches across Russia that you can tune into on TV for free.

The Incredibles 2’s UK release date has probably been timed to coincide with the start of the UK’s school summer holidays, something Disney often does with its big animation releases. But the delay to Ant-Man and The Wasp suggests Disney is deliberately avoiding competition with the World Cup.

“The worry for film distributors is that audiences will be caught up in the tournament,” explains Charles Gant, film journalist and box office expert for Guardian and Screen International.

“So it’s easier to play safe and not date your film at this time, especially during the group stage, when all the qualifying nations are competing.”

With England in action at the World Cup (for the opening group rounds at the very least) Disney appears to think that the audience for Ant-Man and The Wasp could be easily distracted by the football. The first film had a soft box office impact when it opened back in mid-July, 2015, and remains one of the lowest-grossing MCU movies in the UK to date.

L to R: Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and The Wasp/Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) (Film Frame/©Marvel Studios 2018)

The delay to Ant-Man and The Wasp could also be the knock-on effect of pushing Incredibles 2 back. Disney wouldn’t want to be competing with itself at the UK box office by opening the Ant-Man sequel just one week after the Incredibles sequel.

However, it now looks like Disney may have underestimated the power of the Marvel Cinematic Universe this time around, and this plan to delay release could backfire.

Anticipation levels for the Ant-Man sequel are at an all-time high following the events of Infinity War as it now looks like the events of Ant-Man and The Wasp could offer clues to how Avengers 4 may play out.

The culture of online coverage, which pores over every aspect of franchise films like Ant-Man and The Wasp, including deep dives into spoilers, means UK audiences will probably have found out what happens in the film well before it opens in UK cinemas, and this could have a negative impact on its box office potential.

“In effect, the downturn in box office during the World Cup becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: distributors shy away from the dates, and so audiences don’t find the film offer at cinemas that compelling,” adds Gant.

“And then distributors look at the outcome and say, ‘Oh, UK audiences won’t go to the cinema during the World Cup’.”

In the opening weekend of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, UK box office takings were 58% below the equivalent weekend from the year before, with the weekend’s biggest releases Oculus, Belle, and Devil’s Knot all opening below £500,000. The box office for the following week in 2014 was also down 30% from the previous year, but, as Gant explains, it featured one big release that may have benefitted from going up against the World Cup

“The big counter-programming success against the 2014 World Cup was tragedy-tinged teen romance The Fault In Our Stars, from the much-loved John Green YA novel, which grossed a robust £11.5m.”

Sarah Paulson, from left, Mindy Kaling, Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway and Awkwafina, cast members in the upcoming film “Ocean’s 8,” arrive at the Warner Bros. presentation at CinemaCon 2018. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

The big counter-programming release for the 2018 World Cup is Ocean’s 8. Although Warner Bros. declined to comment about its release strategy for the female-fronted crime caper, Gant thinks the studio behind the film will be hoping that the 22 June release date – during the group stages of the tournament – is an open goal for them at the box office.

Ocean’s 8 will skew female, given its cast, but I see this also performing well as a date-night movie for mixed-gender audiences. Warners will be trying to demonstrate that it’s possible to survive against the football, taking advantage of the lack of competition from other major movies at that time. If it’s a big hit, it could be a game changer for the way studios view these mid-tournament release dates.”

If Marvel fans are the losers, the big winners of the World Cup effect are clearly Jurassic World fans.

Rather than pushing the release date of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom to later in the summer, Universal is releasing the sequel the week before the tournament, in line with the mid-June release date of the last film, a full two weeks before its release in North America on 22 June.

Dinosaurd for an ant and a wasp – is it a fair trade?

Read more
Watch the new Ant-Man and The Wasp trailer
What Infinity War’s ending means for the MCU
Infinity War’s writers promise more of Cap in Avengers 4