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How the ‘Endgame’ Team Turned Social Media and Serialized Stories Into Box-Office Heroes

How did Avengers: Endgame shatter box-office records in its opening weekend? To hear the movie’s directors tell it, the success stemmed from a few key ingredients, including social-media buzz and a serialized approach to filmmaking.

But the rise of streaming services also helped, according to Anthony and Joe Russo, the brother duo that oversaw Endgame and other blockbusters for Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios. Despite fears that Netflix and other online platforms will depress movie attendance, the services can help get fans get excited about franchises—and get them into theaters.

“They’re supercharging each other,” Joe Russo, 47, said of video streaming and the movie business. “There’s just an addiction to content consumption. This generation is craving a new kind of storytelling.”

The brothers spoke Monday on a panel at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, Calif., laying out their tips for filmmakers looking to replicate the success of Endgame.

Serialized Stories

The brothers have directed four Marvel movies, including Captain America: Winter Soldier, which took the super trooper out of his frozen past into the modern age. With Captain America: Civil War they persuaded Iron Man actor Robert Downey Jr. to be a bad guy for a bit, leading to superhero infighting and ultimately a loss at the end of last year’s Avengers: Infinity War.

“You have to take chances,” Joe Russo said. “You have to surprise the audience. They’ll tell you they like chocolate ice cream. If you give it to them 15 times in a week, they won’t.”

Social Media

The brothers have 1.7 million Instagram followers and like to drop nuggets about the projects they are working on—but try not to reveal too much or be too controversial.

“We like to tease the fans,” Joe Russo said. “We put clues out there that are very inscrutable. We don’t respond directly to fans, but we put information out there they can have conversations about. People from all over the world can talk to each other instantaneously. It will reach millions of people in an hour all over the world.”

Day-and-Date Releases

Movie studios used to stagger their releases in countries around the world, due in part to varying holidays and school schedules. Endgame came out in nearly all its major markets at roughly the same time, creating a global event that got people talking in advance and attending theaters in groups—some even in costume.

“It’s critical, because of that collective experience,” said Anthony Russo, 49. ‘‘It can feel a little like a rock concert, the crowds are so vocal. That’s a whole dimension to the experience that can’t be achieved at home.”