The Marvels Box Office Was Even Worse Than Expected – What The Heck Happened?

It should have been a big weekend at the box office as "The Marvels," the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, arrived in theaters. This wasn't just any entry in the multi-billion-dollar franchise either, as we're talking about the sequel to 2019's "Captain Marvel," a movie that made $1.12 billion worldwide. Unfortunately, to say the very least of it, the follow-up did not fly further, higher, or faster than its predecessor. Instead, it served up the smallest opening weekend for any movie in the history of the MCU to date.

Per The Numbers, director Nia DaCosta's "The Marvels" opened to $47 million domestically, well below projections heading into the weekend. Just a few weeks ago, tracking had the film opening as high as $90 million. Granted, that was at the top end of those predictions, but even so, the fact that the film scarcely made half of that is downright astonishing. As far as MCU history goes, 2008's "The Incredible Hulk" previously set the low bar for an opening weekend gross, taking in $55.4 million in its opening. That movie finished its run with just $264 million worldwide.

Internationally, things were no better for the MCU's latest, as the film opened below projections overseas, taking in just $63.2 million. That means we're looking at a $110.2 million global opening for a movie with a budget said to be between $220 and $250 million. While it certainly wouldn't be fair to expect any movie to make $1 billion or more, it would be fair to say that, against an investment of that size, Disney was probably hoping for at least $600 million worldwide. That outcome is now highly unlikely. So, we must ask the question: What the heck went wrong here?

A victim of circumstance

There is much to be said about this movie's performance, but first and foremost, DaCosta shouldn't have to shoulder the blame here. Critics were a bit mixed on the film overall (read our review here), but the way Marvel Studios works, the directors are very much guns for hire. DaCosta did her job and the audiences who did go seemed to like the movie. This isn't an example of a filmmaker fumbling the ball or anything like that.

That having been said, there was no major competition to speak of as "Five Nights at Freddy's" was in its third weekend and no other Hollywood film released against "The Marvels." It had a clear path to success, and the moviegoers that wanted to see it could do so unabated, but a great many of the former MCU faithful just chose not to, and that's the issue here. Even "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" posted a huge $106 million opening earlier this year before falling off a cliff the following weekend. It eventually topped out at $476 million worldwide and is the lowest-grossing "Ant-Man" movie overall, despite having the biggest opening weekend.

With all of DC's movies this year — "Shazam! Fury of the Gods," "The Flash," and "Blue Beetle" — also bombing at the box office, it's clear this isn't just a Marvel problem. Broadly speaking, in the post-"Avengers: Endgame" world, audiences are taking superhero films on more of a case-by-case basis. There is no longer the guaranteed level of success that had been granted to the MCU for so long. Gone are the days of a movie like "Thor: The Dark World" being able to coast to $644 million worldwide. The "must-see" nature of these films has dissipated.

The future is no longer a guarantee

In the lead-up to "Infinity War" and "Endgame," everything in the MCU felt essential. That's no longer the case. "The Marvels," for better or worse, seemed to audiences that it was more of a standalone adventure. The other issue is that it heavily pulled from the Disney+ shows, "WandaVision" and "Ms. Marvel" in particular, which not everyone has watched. Those shows have done an awful lot to water down the Marvel brand in recent years, and Disney CEO Bob Iger has even said as much. There's no question this movie suffered from that multi-platform strategy.

It certainly doesn't help that Brie Larson and the rest of the cast couldn't get out and promote "The Marvels" until the very last minute as the Screen Actors Guild strike didn't end until late last week. Those talk show appearances and the press tours do a lot to get movies on the radar for casual moviegoers. That said, it's hard to imagine a full-blown press tour would have moved the needle enough to truly change the tone of the conversation. Are we talking about a difference of tens of millions of dollars? I kindly doubt it. But it certainly would have made a difference.

Let's be clear: Anything in the ballpark of $500 million worldwide is still a massive sum for most movies. So it's a problem (and a different conversation entirely) that a movie like "Quantumania" is considered a disappointment at all, and "The Marvels" seems destined to suffer a similar fate. The point is that these inflated budgets aren't doing anyone any favors right now. In light of recent events, Marvel Studios would do well to move away from $200 million being the norm for production, for starters.

Come what may, "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" pulling in $845 million worldwide is beginning to seem like the exception and not the rule. For a long time, it was the other way around for the MCU. Changes need to happen, and they need to happen fast.

"The Marvels" is in theaters now.

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