We all know good things have to end eventually; just look at Roger Federer’s career, Taylor Swift’s North American concert tour, or Succession concluding with season four this year for proof. This November, it seems like it’s Marvel’s turn for its unbelievable streak of box office hits to finally conclude, not with a bang, but a whimper.
The box-office numbers are in for The Marvels, and they aren’t good. The Captain Marvel sequel pulled in a paltry $47 million this weekend, making it the lowest opening in the 15-year history of Marvel Studios. That’s a distinction that the company surely wanted to avoid. There’s simply no denying the fact that the MCU is less popular than before — we just have to determine why.
Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of reasons. For starters, the Multiverse Saga has lacked direction from the start, the special effects haven’t been very special, the quality control has fallen off, and casual Marvel fans feel overwhelmed by both the movies and the Disney+ shows. It also didn’t help that the Marvel series on Disney+ have largely played it safe rather than taking any narrative risks.
But there are more fundamental issues at play in Marvel’s rapid decline. And that’s why we need to go over the five reasons why the MCU is less popular than before.
By all accounts, Marvel Studios executives were shocked by the way that audiences rejected Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania earlier this year. After opening to $120 million over a holiday weekend, Quantumania limped toward a $214.5 million domestic total. The Marvels will be lucky to get even half of that total, especially after this weekend’s disastrous opening.
Both films have failed to connect in a way that many MCU movies before them have, and it’s a truly worrying sign about the Marvel brand. Moviegoers no longer have faith in Marvel to deliver on its reputation alone, and Marvel badly miscalculated what fans wanted to see in these movies.
Avengers: Endgame marked a true end of an era for Marvel by finishing up the stories of Iron Man, Black Widow, and the first Captain America, Steve Rogers. Those characters have been sorely missed in Phase 4 and 5, and none of the solo movies except Spider-Man: Far From Home, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever have reproduced the blockbuster numbers that the MCU is accustomed to.
This underscores the importance of Iron Man, Captain America, and Black Widow, three of Marvel’s most popular Avengers. Since Endgame, Thor’s luster fell off in Thor: Love and Thunder, Hulk has been relegated to guest star or cameo appearances in She-Hulk: Attorney At Law, and Hawkeye’s future is in doubt after Jeremy Renner’s accident. Spider-Man can do a lot, but he can’t carry the MCU by himself. The other headliners need to return and the ones who remain need to step up.
Apparently, Marvel learned the wrong lesson from Guardians of the Galaxy. That movie was widely predicted to be Marvel’s first flop nearly a decade ago, but fans embraced it and the Guardians eventually had their own sequels, video games, theme park attractions, and more. Yet, instead of examining why Guardians of the Galaxy worked, Marvel’s creative executives apparently believe that they can make movies for any Marvel heroes and get blockbuster results.
No one can say that Marvel didn’t try to expand its character roster in Phase 4. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Eternals were big swings with characters who had never appeared in live-action. Yet, neither film managed to elevate their leading characters to the forefront at Marvel. And while a Shang-Chi sequel has been announced, it’s unknown if any of the Eternals will pop up again to resolve their lingering plotlines.
No film is more emblematic of Marvel’s steep descent into farcical comedy than Thor: Love and Thunder. Early Marvel movies like Iron Man and The Avengers were action movies with some comedy, not comedies with some action. The mixture of comedy and action is tilting far too heavily toward the comedic, and that’s become a turnoff in Marvel’s recent pics.
The Marvels is another example of that. That movie can’t seem to go more than a few minutes without throwing its characters into one farce after another. Getting some good jokes in a script is fine, but Marvel fans don’t want more comedy. They want more character and action.
Regardless of whether The Marvels turns out to have legs at the box office, this film is destined to be the poster child of superhero fatigue. No one was shocked when The Flash, Blue Beetle, and Shazam! Fury of the Gods had disappointing box office returns. DC movies have been struggling for years. And all three of this year’s DC movies were terrible.
For a long time, Marvel seemed immune to any superhero fatigue, even when the films weren’t that great. But between Quantumania and now The Marvels, there’s no denying that Marvel is more vulnerable than ever. The only ray of hope that Marvel has is that movies like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse had terrific numbers at the summer box office. Those movies prove that people still love Marvel characters and that they will watch superhero movies again and again if they’re good. Until Marvel rediscovers how to consistently hit that mark, it’s going to continue to struggle.
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