There's a Fandango survey - surely a highly scientific one - that ranks audience anticipation for the big summer movies. They split it up between men and women, and here's what they found:
Men’s Picks for Most Anticipated Summer Movie:
1. “The Avengers” 31%
2. “The Dark Knight Rises” 23%
3. “The Bourne Legacy” 14%
4. “Men in Black 3” 8%
5. “Prometheus” 7%
Women’s Picks for Most Anticipated Summer Movie:
1. “Snow White and the Huntsman” 22%
2. “The Avengers” 16%
3. “Men in Black 3” 13%
4. “The Dark Knight Rises” 10%
5. “Dark Shadows” 8%
Women seem more fragmented than men (31% of their most anticipated films lie outside of the top five, and thus go unreported). Also, the Snow White and the Huntsman score feels like a bit of system gaming from Twilight fans.
But for the boy nerdiness stuff, let's look at The Avengers versus The Dark Knight Rises. The Avengers blows TDKR away for both men and women. Some of this, surely, comes from the fact that we're entering the height of buzz and marketing for The Avengers while The Dark Knight Rises hangs patiently back. But is there more to it?
I've seen The Avengers and haven't seen The Dark Knight Rises, but judging by Christopher Nolan's previous films - especially the Batman films - I can get a sense of what to expect. The Avengers is big, colorful, fun spectacle. The Dark Knight Rises promises to be darker, more serious and more of a downer*. Is this part of the divide, part of what people are responding to? Are people attracted to the inherently more optimistic vision of The Avengers over the grim vision of The Dark Knight Rises?
It's hard to say what moviegoers respond to in times like these. The world's in a tough place, and America's in an especially tough place. A much worse place than we were when The Dark Knight hit in 2008. That film, which was very much about the state of the world at that exact moment - chaos all around, heroes forced to take excessive measures to maintain safety - tapped into the zeitgeist. But now, as the world has continued to darken and keeps getting scarier, are audiences in the mood for more darkness on screen? The Dark Knight Rises looks to be presciently tapping into the 1% vs the 99% vibe (and seemingly coming down on the side of the 1%, but whatever) but will the darkness turn off people dealing with foreclosures and unemployment?
Meanwhile The Avengers is a classic Marvel story, wherein the human foibles of the super characters threaten to derail the saving of the day, but in the end everybody gets together and gets shit done. It's not all sunshine and roses, and the heroes fight amongst each other as much as they fight the invading Chitauri, but in the end it's teamwork and cooperation that saves the day. We live in an America where our government has completely fallen apart, unable to come together to accomplish the simplest goals, and the fantasy of cooperation could be exactly what audiences want to see in theaters. It also helps that The Avengers is really good, and delivers on the fun that we rarely see in our movies.
Is Batman about to get sideswiped by Captain America and company? The hardcore Mujahabatdeen remain fanatical as ever, but is the general audience more interested in something brighter, more obviously hopeful? Have we been dragged through enough mud in the real world that we're sick of the grim n' gritty? Or is the Bat biding his time, and he'll strike twice as hard as The Avengers?
* even if it ends on a hopeful note, which it surely must.