Since 2008’s Iron Man, the Marvel machine has been one of the most unstoppable forces in box-office history. Now, though, that aura of invincibility is showing signs of wear and tear. The superhero factory hit a new low with the weekend launch of The Marvels, which opened with just US$47 million (S$64 million), according to studio estimates Sunday (Nov 12).
The 33rd installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a sequel to the 2019 Brie Larson-led Captain Marvel, managed less than a third of the US$153.4 million its predecessor launched with before ultimately taking in US$1.13 billion worldwide.
Sequels, especially in Marvel Land, aren’t supposed to fall off a cliff. David Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Research Entertainment, called it “an unprecedented Marvel box-office collapse”.
The previous low for a Walt Disney Co.-owned Marvel movie was Ant-Man, which bowed with US$57.2 million in 2015. Otherwise, you have to go outside the Disney MCU to find such a slow start for a Marvel movie – releases like Sony’s Morbius in 2022 or 20th Century Fox’s Fantastic Four reboot with US$25.6 million in 2015.
But The Marvels was a US$200 million-plus sequel to a US$1 billion blockbuster. It was also an exceptional Marvel release in numerous other ways. The film, directed by Nia DaCosta, was the first MCU release directed by a Black woman. It was also the rare Marvel movie led by three women – Larson, Teyonah Parris and Iman Vellani.
Reviews weren’t strong (62 per cent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) and neither was audience reaction. The Marvels is only the third MCU release to receive a “B” Cinema Score from moviegoers, following Eternals and Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantamania.
The Marvels, which added US$63.3 million in overseas ticket sales, may go down as a turning point in the MCU. Over the years, the franchise has collected US$33 billion globally – a point Disney noted in reporting its grosses Sunday.
But with movie screens and streaming platforms increasingly crowded with superhero films and series, some analysts have detected a new fatigue setting in for audiences. Disney chief executive Bob Iger himself spoke about possible oversaturation for Marvel.
“Over the last three and a half years, the growth of the genre has stopped,” Gross wrote in a newsletter Sunday.
Either way, something is shifting for superheroes. The box-office title this year appears assured to go to Barbie, the year’s biggest smash with more than US$1.4 billion worldwide for Warner Bros.
Marvels has still produced recent hits. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 launched this summer with US$118 million before ultimately raking in US$845.6 million worldwide. Sony’s Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse earned US$690.5 million globally and, after rave reviews, is widely expected to be an Oscar contender.
The actors strike also didn’t do The Marvels any favours. The cast of the film weren’t permitted to promote the film until the strike was called off late Wednesday evening when SAG-AFTRA and the studios reached agreement. Larson and company quickly jumped onto social media and made surprise appearances in theaters. And Larson guested on The Tonight Show on Friday.
The normally orderly pattern of MCU releases has also been disrupted by the strikes. Currently, the only Marvel movie on the studio’s 2024 calendar is Deadpool 3, opening July 26.