Brie Larson stars as Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel in Disney and Marvel’s “The Marvels.”
It was always going to be tough to top “Avengers: Endgame,” but what has spilled out from Disney and Marvel Studios in the wake of that epic has left fans discouraged about the franchise.
There was hope that “The Marvels,” which arrives in theaters Friday, might build on the box office success of “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3” earlier this year. But there’s a strong chance it could have one of the lowest opening weekends in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Initial predictions saw the film opening to between $75 million and $80 million domestically, but those figures have shrunk to a range between $60 million and $65 million in recent weeks. No MCU film has opened in that range since 2011, according to data from Comscore.
The only films that have opened lower than $60 million have been 2015’s “Ant-Man,” which debuted with $57 million in 2015, and 2008’s “Incredible Hulk,” which opened with $55 million.
“The Marvel track record at the box office is virtually unrivaled in terms of the depth and breadth of titles, the staggering number of records broken, fan appreciation and sheer revenue generating power over the decades,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.
“Unfortunately, countless spinoffs, sequels and universes in both big screen and small screen iterations, and an 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 big screen offerings,” he added.
While it’s clear that Marvel has lost out on actor promotion for the film due to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike, there are many other factors behind the soft expectations for “The Marvels.”
For one, “Endgame” marked the culmination of nearly a decade of interconnected storytelling and overperformed expectations. It wrapped up a number of character storylines and opened the door for new adventures.
However, in Disney’s exuberance to pad its fledgling streaming service Disney+ during the pandemic, it saturated the market with hit-or-miss television series. It introduced dozens of new heroes and villains as well as fundamentally altered the universe in which previous films had been set. For many casual fans, the inundation of content began to feel more like homework than entertainment.
Additionally, the content itself, both on the big and small screen, hasn’t been up to par for audiences.
Tom Hiddleston stars as Loki in the Disney+ series “Loki.”
While shows like “Loki,” “Ms. Marvel” and “Moon Knight” scored well with critics and general viewers, “Secret Invasion” flopped. Similarly, on the theatrical side, “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” “Guardians 3” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” won over audiences MCU, while “The Eternals,” “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” and “Thor: Love and Thunder” made them question the direction of the franchise.
“If you thought ‘Eternals’ and ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ were low points for the limping Marvel Cinematic Universe, strap in for the ride to abject misery that is ‘The Marvels,'” wrote Johnny Oleksinski in his review for the New York Post.
Yet, Iman Vellani, who portrays the plucky, newly minted superhero Ms. Marvel, seems to be a bright spot in the feature, with many critics praising her performance.
Box office analysts aren’t ready to wave the white flag on superhero content, suggesting that audiences aren’t lukewarm on superheroes, they are just sick of bad stories. After all, look at the success of Amazon Prime Video’s “The Boys” and “Gen V,” as well as the animated series “Invincible.” There’s also Max’s “Peacemaker.”
“This is not a fatigue of Marvel or superheroes, but a fatigue of creative and studio missteps that are not unique to any one film or franchise,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “It just so happens that because it’s Marvel, everything is more magnified and scrutinized whether things are going right or wrong.”
Box office analysts have pointed to Marvel’s film promotion as another issue for the studio. When “The Marvels” was first teased to audiences it was billed as a female-led comedy, with its heroines swapping powers at random while they learn how to become a team.
In its most recent trailer release, Marvel sets “The Marvels” up as a generic action movie in which the villain is destroying the fabric of the universe with a magical MacGuffin. The trailer also features a significant number of shots from previous Marvel movies featuring characters like Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Steve Rogers (Captain America), who are no longer part of the franchise.
“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,” Robbins said.
In the past, deceptive marketing was part of the appeal of Marvel’s trailers. Altered footage or purposefully edited clips and shots were done to conceal spoilers or entice fans. For example, in trailers for “Avengers: Infinity War” clips that show Thanos’ gauntlet featured fewer infinity stones as to not spoil that he had collected more during the film.
Paul Rudd is Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man, alongside Johnathan Majors as Kang the Conqueror in “Ant-Man and the Wasp in Quantumania.”
The stark contrast in how “The Marvels” was first advertised versus its final trailer suggests that Disney was worried about lackluster presales and wanted to lure in fans with hints of nostalgia to previous projects.
If “The Marvels” does flop at the box office, it could push Disney to more aggressively look for a reset. Especially, since it’s already facing an uphill battle with actor Jonathan Majors, who it chose to take on the role of Kang, the next big bad in the MCU. Majors is embroiled in legal troubles stemming from allegations of assault and abuse.
“At the time the pandemic hit, we were leaning into a huge increase in how much we were making,” CEO Bob Iger said during Disney’s earnings call Wednesday. “And 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.
Iger said that the company is looking to consolidate the number of films it makes going forward and focus more on quality.
“There aren’t any easy answers for the big picture state of Marvel’s challenges right now, but if there’s an upside it’s that plenty of moviegoers and fans do still care,” said Robbins. “They want to see a course correction sooner rather than later.”
There’s still some good news at least, said Comscore’s Dergarabedian. “The Marvels” isn’t competing against “Dune: Part Two,” which left the calendar in favor of a 2024 release, and will have plenty of premium movie screens to play in. Those showings, which typically cost more than traditional screenings, could pad the film’s box office.
“It would be wise to temper opening weekend expectations given the uneven performances of some of the recent releases from the brand and look more at the ultimate box office result as the true measure of success for this latest Marvel release,” he said.
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal owns Rotten Tomatoes.