Joss Whedon Avengers Shield

Most people thought "The Avengers" would make money. The five official Marvel movies to date, from 2008's "Iron Man" to last year's "Captain America" had, after all, made over $2.2 billion worldwide. But most figured that, given that the film followed on to four franchises simultaneously, that there would be a cap on it: surely if "Iron Man 2" made $600 million worldwide, that was the ceiling for the film's grosses? But thanks to sterling reviews, phenomenal word of mouth, and a strong marketing campaign, the film has already made that sum in less than two weeks of international release, topping it off with a record-breaking U.S. opening weekend of $200 million, $50 million ahead of estimates, and $30 million more than the previous record holder, last year's "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2"

We're looking at a giant, giant blockbuster, and the only question is how high it gets: it's nearly certain of taking the all-time #3 slot worldwide, beating 'Potter,' and has as good a chance as anything at coming close to "Titanic" at #2 (though we imagine it'll fall short). But how will it change things for those involved, from writer-director Joss Whedon to Marvel Studios to the rival companies in Hollywood left in the dust by the film's astounding box-office? We've dug into the potential consequences below.

Joss Whedon Mark Ruffalo The Avengers
Joss Whedon
For a while, Joss Whedon was feeling less and less part of the Hollywood mainstream. He'd faced creative battles with Fox on both "Firefly" and "Dollhouse," and the network had ended up basically burying both shows on Friday night, and neither lasted more than two seasons. His feature film debut "Serenity," a continuation of "Firefly," failed to set the world alight, and he's had various other feature film projects in development, but never quite moving.

But now, for all the credit that Marvel, Disney and the A-list cast (rightfully) get for the film's success, it's Whedon that's proven to the "x factor." He pulled off the near-impossible, leading the comic book film to overwhelmingly positive reviews, and an A+ CinemaScore that should ensure that audiences won't just be recommending it to their friends, they'll also become coming back for second helpings. Whedon has proven by his impeccable handling of scope and character that he can play with the big boys, and he now gets to sit alongside James Cameron, Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan at the very top of the tree. Which begs the question: what's next for him?

The Avengers Chris Evans Jeremy Renner Scarlett Johansson

After his painful TV flops, Whedon had been talking about eschewing studio financing altogether, making an impressive, if low-key, profit with the self-financed web series "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog." And he's been following along that path since "The Avengers" wrapped too: he's funded two independent projects himself, a version of "Much Ado About Nothing" which he's directed, and fantasy romance called "In Your Eyes," which he's written and produced. And he's been talking for years about another web series "Wastelanders," co-written with comics writer Warren Ellis, as well a a possible follow-up to 'Dr. Horrible.' Clearly, he was going to walk this path whether "The Avengers" was a success or not.

Now, though, he's about to be one of the most sought after filmmakers around -- virtually every major franchise with a directorial vacancy will be chasing him, but, honestly we can't see him tempted by many -- even unfinished business like "Wonder Woman" will presumably feel like small potatos in comparison to this. Franchises aside, he's now got the power and kudos for creative freedom within the system too. Christopher Nolan got to make long-time dream project "Inception," after "The Dark Knight," and we suspect that some studio will step in to finance something for Whedon that he never could have gotten made without a mega-hit like this. Long-in-the-offing fantasy "Goners?" A "Serenity" sequel (still unlikely, but we live in a world with three Riddick movies, so you never know...)? Something else, something as yet unannounced? It'll be a little while before we know, but we're sure the temptation for unlimited creative freedom on a giant canvas will be enough to see Whedon not shun the studios for too long. And then, of course, there's the inevitable "The Avengers" sequel...