The anything-but-marvelous performance of The Marvels is a moment of reckoning for Marvel Studios, the production house that has been the superhero of the box office for much of the past 15 years, since Iron Man burst onto the scene in 2008.
Over the Nov. 10-12 weekend, The Marvels debuted to $46.1 million in North America, the worst opening in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has raked in more than $30 billion in global movie ticket sales. The 33rd MCU installment was battered by withering audience exit scores and a ho-hum B CinemaScore.
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But it wasn’t the first warning sign that something was amiss within Marvel in terms of quality control as Feige’s team went into overdrive producing shows for streaming; features Eternals and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantamania were also slapped with B CinemaScores, while audiences began complaining about keeping up with an increasing number of shows on Disney+ to understand the overarching MCU story.
Behind the scenes, Marvel Studios and Disney were well aware The Marvels was in trouble before it hit the big screen. There was also a recognition that Feige and his team needed time to take stock of their theatrical tentpoles, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter. On Nov. 8, Bob Iger said during on an earnings call that Disney’s movie empire has “lost focus” because of an emphasis on quantity over quality in the rush to feed Disney+ under the Bob Chapek regime (though it was Iger himself who initiated this push before Chapek’s reign). Feige and his team felt this mandate keenly, to detriment of Marvel’s movies, sources say.
A day later, Marvel and Disney revealed they were scaling back the number of superhero films they will release in 2024 from three to one. That news was made at the end of the SAG-AFTRA strike, and while the work stoppage, which shut down production on Deadpool 3, is certainly part of the reason for some of the date changes, it wasn’t the only one, sources say.
Shawn Levy and Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool 3 will be Marvel and Disney’s sole superhero offering in 2024, and will now open on July 26 instead of May 3. The high-profile threequel, which co-stars Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, is the first Deadpool to be released by Disney since it acquired 20th Century Fox and is also the first R-rated pic to be released by Marvel Studios. The marquee title is described as a multiverse-spanning feature that will set the stage for Marvel’s upcoming Avengers movies.
Marvel Studios’ Captain America: New World Order, which was previously set to hit theaters July 26, 2024, has been delayed nine months to Feb. 14, 2025, which will give the studio time to shoot additional material. Marvel’s antihero-centric movie Thunderbolts, starring Florence Pugh and Sebastian Stan, is moving from Dec. 20, 2024, to July 25, 2025.
Among 2025 titles, Blade, starring Mahershala Ali, has been pushed back nine months, moving its release date from Feb. 14, 2025, to Nov. 7, 2025. Both Blade and Thunderbolts were scheduled to go into production this past summer but did not have scripts that were ready in time, so they were shut down amid the writers strike in May. The release-date changes announced Nov. 9 mean that Marvel has four superhero pics set for 2025 when including the Fantastic Four reboot, scheduled for release on May 2 (like Deadpool, Fantastic Four arrived from 20th Century), but that could change.
Rather than being a straight up sequel to the billion-dollar blockbuster Captain Marvel, The Marvels is something of a mashup. In the movie, Larson is joined by Iman Vellani, the breakout star of the Disney+ series Ms. Marvel, as well as WandaVision‘s Teyonah Parris as the grown-up version of Captain Marvel character Monica Rambeau. Mixing and matching characters for sequels is a game plan Marvel has used in the past on films like Captain America: Civil War, which featured nearly every Marvel character imaginable, but to much different results, grossing $1.15 billion in 2016.
“Why not simply make Captain Marvel 2? Why produce The Marvels when your audience identified, empathized, and even hero-identified with Brie Larson’s character? More importantly, why offer people similar or the same characters and stories that are on Disney+ if you expect them to go to a theater together? Disney/Marvel diluted their product,” says one film producer. “Of course, a picture works or fails for other reasons too, but losing so much value picture-over-picture is rare and hard to do.”
Captain Marvel debuted to $153.4 million in North America on its way to earning a massive $1.13 billion worldwide, not adjusted for inflation. To be sure, that movie had a clear advantage in that it was teased in the post-credit scene of 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War, while its titular star was a player in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame (it was released between the two Marvel mega-blockbusters).
Until now, rival DC was the superhero studio that endured the biggest ups and downs, with a good number of its films opening to $50 million or less (in comparison, many MCU releases started with $100 million or more domestically). This summer, DC’s The Flash debuted to a dismal $55 million domestically on its way to topping out at a paltry $270.6 million globally.
Notes Comscore box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian, “the uneven performance of all superhero films in recent years should be a wake-up call in terms of how these films are conceived, executed and marketed moving forward.”
Aaron Couch contributed to this story.
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