There was nothing heroic about the opening weekend of Marvel’s latest comic book movie The Marvels , which struck out at the box office earning just $46 million in North America.
With Brie Larson returning as Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, the film ranked as the worst worldwide debut in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its $110 million global haul paled in comparison to 2019’s billion-dollar juggernaut, Captain Marvel , which debuted with $455 million internationally just four years ago.
Since 2008’s Iron Man , Marvel has churned out 33 films and been one of the most dependable studios in Hollywood. But The Marvels’ flop proved that the franchise, overseen by producer and executive Kevin Feige , wasn’t infallible after all.
The previous low for a movie set within the MCU was 2015’s Ant-Man , which opened with $57.5 million in North America, but eventually legged out to over $519 million worldwide. This year’s third entry — Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania — perhaps hinted at things to come with its unimpressive $476 million global gross.
But The Marvels was following up a film that earned over a billion dollars and marked the first time a Marvel movie was led by three women — Teyonah Parris also appears as Photon/Monica Rambeau, while Iman Vellani reprises her role as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan from the Disney+ spinoff. The sequel was also helmed by the youngest director in Marvel history, 34-year-old Nia DaCosta .
If “girl power” could help energize the box office success of Barbie and Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour film, it stood to reason that The Marvels would be able to tap into that fuel as well.
But with its content also being tied to shows streaming on Disney+, audiences may be getting tired of the interconnected storylines Marvel so deftly weaved in the lead-up to 2019’s Avengers: Endgame . Oversaturation has become an issue as Marvel has released nine television shows and maintained its pace of three to four theatrical movies per-year. Even the most die-hard comic book fans might struggle to keep pace.
“Moviegoers in today’s environment have so many options for entertainment that it takes much more than just branding and labelling to draw them to movie theatres,” Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian tells Postmedia in an interview. “Posting a historical franchise low is certainly reflective of audiences who have loved these films, but are now looking for something different. Not the product of a formula repeated time and again.”
“Disney+ has diluted the event-like feel that Marvel films once had,” Jeff Bock, senior analyst at Exhibitor Relations, says in a separate chat. “All-access isn’t always the best thing for a product that used to be solely theatrical.”
“I’ve always felt that quantity can be actually a negative when it comes to quality,” Disney’s CEO Bob Iger said on a recent earnings call. “And I think that’s exactly what happened. We lost some focus.”
Audiences have different expectations now than they did four years ago when the first Captain Marvel flew into theatres. The unexpected late October $80 million opening weekend over-performance of Five Nights At Freddy’s shows how much audience tastes have changed in recent years. Even though Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 was a hit when it opened in theatres this past May ($845 million worldwide), superhero fatigue was bound to settle in.
“There will always be some inherent fatigue when audiences are blasted with upwards of a half-dozen superhero films each and every year,” Bock says. “That’s really true of any genre — none of them are bulletproof.”
Perhaps sensing waning interest, Marvel’s rival DC, hit the reset button last year, with James Gunn and Peter Safran announcing they were scrapping its existing superhero slate after next month’s Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom and starting from scratch again with a new Superman movie in 2025.
After the duo’s plans were unveiled, DC’s three subsequent films — a Shazam! sequel, a solo Flash movie and Blue Beetle — all flopped.
Next year, Marvel will only release one film theatrically — Deadpool 3 — with Ryan Reynolds back as the Merc with a Mouth alongside Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. That entry will reportedly set the stage for the next Avengers movies.
But the genre is far from over. After next year’s breather, Marvel will release four superhero pics in 2025 — a Fantastic Four reboot, Captain America: New World Order , Thunderbolts and Blade .
“The MCU is in a rebuild, not a reboot like DC, but I think having A-list heroes represented in your films is essential,” Bock says. “We’ll find that out when Deadpool 3 drops next summer. Obviously, that will be a huge hit with audiences. Then it’s time to revisit X-Men and Fantastic Four and some of Marvel’s power players.”
Dergarabedian says The Marvels’ disappointment should be a wake-up call for moviemakers. But he also thinks that superhero films can learn how to reinvent themselves by looking at how features based on video games have been able to curry favour with audiences.
“The video game adaptation was once considered box office poison and now has been reinvented and has morphed into the new cinematic frontier for studios and filmmakers,” he says. “I actually think some breathing space between superhero films from any brand is a good thing and can provide time to hit the reset and take stock of the situation.”
Sometimes absence can make the heart grow fonder. This is definitely something Marvel is banking on.