Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel (2019) made historic at the box office, but now The Marvels is struggling to awe the audience and crunch figures. Unlike Captain Marvel, the latest release could have one of the lowest opening weekends in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at Comscore, says The Marvels‘ track record at the box office is virtually unrivaled in terms of the depth and breadth of titles, the staggering number of records broken, the fan appreciation and sheer revenue-generating power over the decades. “Unfortunately, countless spinoffs, sequels, and universes in both the big screen and small screen iterations, and at times unclear marketing message have resulted in mixed critical and fan reaction, and thus resulted in disappointing box office results for some of Marvel’s recent screen offerings.”
On the marketing side, The Marvels dropped its first teaser in May when the last Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 movie was released. The MCU may have gotten too full for the Marvel Studios to come up with special strategized marketing for its releases. Most of the studio’s marketing positioned The Marvels as a standalone adventure in the interconnected Marvel Cinematic Universe.
But then things didn’t start of on the right for The Marvels. Jonathan Majors, who plays the film’s lead villain Kang, was arrested in March and is facing a domestic violence trial. And the lead actress Brie Larson in a 2021 interview had said there’s something very different about being shown to the world as a superhero. She explained that playing Carol Danvers on screen came with pressure to uphold a certain image. Carol Danvers became the first solo female lead in the MCU, and Captain Marvel went on to make history at the box office as the first female superhero flick to earn $1 billion. But The Marvels box office figures are opposite.
Joanna Robinson, co-author of the book ‘MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios, says Marvel Studios may be feeling like it’s on the knife’s edge. “I like to call this period the wobble. They’re still making so much money, but there is tarnish on the brand.”
Bob Iger, Disney CEO, had once talked about the power of the Marvel Studios brand and how it built trust among fans that even if you had never heard of a certain character, the Marvel logo in front of it would guarantee a certain level of quality. Robinson pointed out that moviegoers have watched Secret Invasion and The Eternals because it says Marvel Studios in front of it. But it doesn’t mean it’s as solid as that incredible run they had through Avengers: Endgame.
“Their biggest weakness is that diminished brand, but the greatest strength is that brand that existed in the first place and the loyalty and emotional connection that people feel to certain characters. They haven’t made a movie with Avengers in the title since Endgame. They still have some kind of deal with Sony around Tom Holland as Spider-Man, and people will absolutely show up for those movies. They also have the Fantastic Four and the X-Men.”
She highlighted that the Marvel Studios turned anything remotely associated with it into gold – TV shows anchoring the launch of Disney+ streaming service, films regularly topping $1 billion or close, and spawning an entire ecosystem of unofficial podcasts and YouTube channels dedicated to discussing its every move.
Marvel Superhero Fatigue
But we are now years past the COVID-19 pandemic and there are no restrictions or curfews to stay home, people have returned to their normal lives of work and home, and gone past are the days of staying indoors to prevent the pandemic and just Netflix or stream content online.
The audience is looking for new content, not bad stories. Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com, says it’s not about the fatigue of Marvel or superheroes, but a fatigue of creative and studio missteps that are not unique to any film or franchise.
Another problem with its latest release could be that The Marvels was first slated to be a female-led comedy, with its heroines swapping powers at random while they learn how to become a team. Furthermore, The Marvels’ recent trailer highlighted the film as a generic action movie, wherein the villain is destroying the fabric of the universe with a magical MacGuffin. Plus, there are flashes of previous movies like Iron Man, and Captain America.
Robbins explained that the fact that marketing spots for this particular movie are leaning on nostalgia and clips from Endgame represents a red flag in and of itself. But then, deceptive marketing was part of the appeal of Marvel’s trailers.