On its opening weekend, “The Marvels” generated around $47 million, which is what Rebecca Rubin described in Variety as “the worst debut in MCU history.”
The MCU or the Marvel Cinematic Universe “is a collection of movies and television series that tell a singular narrative related to Marvel characters, settings and stories,” Herb Scribner wrote for the Deseret News.
For context, the movie cost around $300 million (including production and marketing) and clocked in behind “The Incredible Hulk,” which was Marvel’s worst debut up until this point in 2008 at $79 million, The New York Times reported.
“The Marvels” premiered on the heels of the actors strike coming to an end. The strike meant that cast members were not permitted to promote the movie, whether on the red carpet or otherwise. It’s unknown how much of an impact this particular facet of the strike had on the box office, according to Indie Wire.
Here’s a look at reviews of “The Marvels,” why the movie didn’t take off at the box office and what’s next for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
‘The Marvels’ reviews
Ahead of its release, “The Marvels” received mixed reviews.
Critics who panned the movie pointed toward its quality. “The throng of song-planet inhabitants moves around in images as flat and free of texture as those of a sitcom, making the colorful costumes look cheap despite the bloated budget and lending little sense of reality to this fantastic world,” Zachary Barnes wrote for The Wall Street Journal.
“It brings me absolutely no joy to report that ‘The Marvels’ is terrible, and the worst film yet in the Marvel Cinematic Universe,” Christy Lemire wrote for Roger Ebert reviews. Lemire praised the choice of director and the three lead actresses, but also wrote, “Instead, it’s a narrative and visual jumble, and the clearest evidence yet that maybe we don’t need some sort of Marvel product in theaters or on streaming at all times.”
Other reviewers sensed something different about this release and praised it on account of those differences. “It shares the humor and heart of ‘Guardians,’ but it avoids leaping all over the galaxy to tell a singular narrative and doesn’t get bogged down in a backstory,” Emily Zemler wrote for the Observer, calling the movie “better than a lot of recent MCU fare.”
“Still, there’s still plenty to like in ‘The Marvels.’ There’s some goofy kinetic fun, a lot of joy from Vellani’s performance, and a big emotional payoff, thanks to the friendships these women create,” Alex Abad-Santos wrote in a review for Vox. “At times it’s even a little bit magical — the way Marvel movies used to be when they weren’t too busy telling you to look out of what’s next.”
Though the critics reviews were mixed, the audience score was 84% on Rotten Tomatoes and one verified reviewer wrote “I just don’t get all the hate ... it’s funny, action packed, comic book element sprinkled everywhere and pure fun!”
Why didn’t ‘The Marvels’ perform well at the box office?
There are some signs that Marvel will roll back the number of superhero movies it produces. On Nov. 9, “Marvel and Disney revealed they were scaling back the number of superhero films they will release in 2024 from three to one,” Pamela McClintock reported for The Hollywood Reporter.
Glen Weldon, who hosts NPR’s podcast “Pop Culture Happy Hour,” said on NPR that producing too many superhero movies may have contributed to lower than expected box-office performance of “The Marvels.”
“The MCU back then (when ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ debuted) was just movies, movies that would come out sporadically,” Weldon explained. “They’d have plenty of hype in the run-up. Now there’s movies and there’s TV shows, so many TV shows that the Marvel just doesn’t mean what it did. It can’t.”
When talking about the company as a whole on an earnings call earlier this month, Robert Iger, CEO of Disney, said per The New York Times, “I’ve always felt that quantity can be actually a negative when it comes to quality. And I think that’s exactly what happened. We lost some focus.”
“The Marvels” incorporated different elements of the MCU including “Captain Marvel,” “WandaVision” and “Ms. Marvel.” In that way, it wasn’t a straight sequel, which one Hollywood producer said may have been to its detriment.
“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?” an unnamed film producer told The Hollywood Reporter. “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.”
A Disney executive said that because it involved characters from different shows, that may have deterred moviegoers who hadn’t watched them.
“There may have been a barrier to entry, with some people assuming they needed to have already watched the Disney+ shows in order to know what was going on in the film,” Tony Chambers, Disney’s executive vice president of theatrical distribution, told The New York Times, calling the box-office results “disappointing.”
“We know the film is resonating with female audiences. We’re going to keep the pressure up and fight the good fight into Thanksgiving,” Chambers continued.
Are we just tired of superhero movies?
Another factor at play could be superhero fatigue. Or, in other words, being tired of watching another flick about superheroes.
“Yet for the first time, I would say, since the launch of the MCU, which was 15 years ago last month (when ‘Iron Man’ was released in the U.S.), superhero fatigue is palpable,” Owen Gleiberman wrote for Variety. “You can read it in the numbers, notably the post-pandemic figures, when we don’t have to put an asterisk next to a film’s box-office performance.”
Gleiberman isn’t alone in this observation.
“What hope do these movies have to feel fresh or exciting when they’re arriving at a pace to rival the clockwork release of their comic-book source material?” AA. Dowd wrote in an article about “Marvel fatigue” for The Guardian.
Marvel isn’t the only superhero movie franchise that’s seen less than stellar box-office numbers.
The DC Universe has shown some signs of an audience that has superhero fatigue.
Earlier this year, “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” opened with $30 million and ended up grossing $133 million worldwide, per Box Office Mojo.
It’s worth mentioning that not every movie from DC (or Marvel) has slowed down at the box office. “The Batman” had a stellar opening weekend with $134 million and it ended up grossing north of $772 million globally, according to Box Office Mojo.
Some say that superhero fatigue isn’t real.
“If general audiences were truly souring on blockbuster superhero fare, even high-quality projects like ‘Guardians’ or (Prime Video series) ‘Gen V’ would also be taking a hit in viewership,” Caleb Fesmire wrote for Collider. “But that doesn’t seem to be happening.”
“Fans still want to see superhero stories; they just want them to be good,” Fesmire continued.
There are examples of superhero movies that have proven themselves to be high-quality. Take “Black Panther” as an example. It made history in 2019 when it received a nomination for the Academy Award’s coveted best picture (“Green Book” ended up winning that year).
What’s next for the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
So, what’s next for the MCU?
There are signs that the release of new MCU films may be slowing down. “Deadpool 3” (which will be rated-R) is coming up in 2024 followed by “Captain America: Brave New World” in 2025. “Blade” is expected to also release in 2025, per Rotten Tomatoes, along with “Fantastic Four.” There are other movie projects possibly in the works, but not many details.
“Disney realizes they need to pivot and tweak their most prominent IP (intellectual property),” Jeff Bock, senior analyst at Exhibitor Relations, told Variety. “It’s not a reboot, but a rebuild.”
“I think one could argue that, no, we’re not tired of superheroes. Are we tired of Marvel superheroes? We’ll have to see,” Syracuse University professor of television and popular culture, Robert Thompson, told CNBC. “I don’t think ‘Ant-Man’ and ‘The Marvels’ and a couple of the others ones are enough to completely write it off.”