Marvel Overestimated What It Had

What Happened to The Marvels?

For a little while (ever since I finished up my Definitive List of the MCU), I’ve been thinking about what happened with The Marvels. Whatever your opinion of the movie might have been (some liked it, some hated it), I doubt that there’s a real argument that somehow more people hated it than, say, Thor: Love and Thunder. I personally didn’t hate either, but the general consensus seems to be that these were two of the weaker entries in the Marvel Cinematic UniverseWhen it first began in 2008 with a little film called Iron Man no one suspected the empire that would follow. Superhero movies in the past, especially those not featuring either Batman or Superman, were usually terrible. And yet, Iron Man would lead to a long series of successful films, launching the most successful cinema brand in history: the Marvel Cinematic Universe. to date. Except Thor: Love and Thunder $760 Mil at the Box Office, making it a solid success for Marvel, while The Marvels $206 Mil at the Box Office, ranking it as an outright failure. What was the difference between these two films that, despite audiences feeling about the same with the two movies, one succeeded and the other failed?

There are commentators online that will come up with all kinds of reasons, some of which are far dumber than others. Superhero fatigue or “no one wants to watch superhero women” or “Marvel too woke”. I’d buy the first one at least a little because, as we’ve discussed before, it’s pretty clear Marvel doesn’t have a clue what they’re doing with the Multiverse Saga, and audiences have grown tired of it. But there’s also another factor, I think, that has to be taken into account for this Captain Marvel sequel: Marvel didn’t realize what the audience size actually was for this film.

When you go back to Captain Marvel, it’s easy to look at the $1.131 Bil the movie made and think, “any sequel to this film is absolutely going to make all the money ever.” Of course, times are very different now for Marvel than they were in 2019 when the end of the Infinity Saga exploded all over audiences. Captain Marvel tucked right in between Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame and it got to benefit from audiences wanting something, anything, to sate their desire for the conclusion before Endgame arrived. There was no way that film was going to make anything less than $600 Mil. That would be unthinkable.

Plus, let’s not downplay the fact that Captain Marvel was the first female-led superhero film in the whole of the MCU. Fair or not she was the standard bearer. She got to do for the MCU what Wonder Woman did for the DC Extended UniverseStarted as DC Comics' answer to the MCU, the early films in the franchise stumbled out of the gates, often mired in grim-dark storytelling and the rushed need to get this franchise started. Eventually, though, the films began to even out, becoming better as they went along. Still, this franchise has a long way to go before it's true completion for Marvel's universe.. Wonder Woman made a whole shit ton of money as well ($824 Mil) despite the fact that, even then, no one really liked the DCEU. People liked the MCU (at least at the time) so Captain Marvel, following the same pattern, had to make a ton, right? Those elements all strewn together would seem to point to a big, fat “yes”.

If we want a fair look at what a film could make in that slot, right between Infinity War and Endgame, we need look no further than Ant-Man and Wasp. That film came out a few months before Captain Marvel, right in the same Avengers middle ground, and it made $622 Mil, about $100 Mil more than Ant-Man. Clearly there was an Avengers bump, and both films benefited from it. Captain Marvel more so, of course, but then all the factors I listed above did help to goose its numbers.

That also means, though, that without a pair of Avengers films book-ending The Marvels, there was no way the sequel was going to make the same amount of money. Marvel likely didn’t think that, as they had a sequel to a massively successful tentpole, but they should have been able to guess it. Maybe they couldn’t have known, while developing the movie, that it would bring in as little as it did (and that certainly comes down to flaws with the film and a general sense of audience malaise) but they should have been able to guess it wouldn’t make over a billion dollars and their expectations needed to be tempered.

If we look at sequels that have come out since Avengers: Engame, we can paint a more realistic picture of Marvel’s state in the game. Thor: Love and Thunder was a direct sequel to Thor: Ragnarok, following a character that people had come to know and love across three previous “solo” films and a bunch of crossovers. It still made $100 Mil less and, as far as some are concerned, is a failure. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was the sequel to the hugely successful Black Panther and it functioned as a memorial for deceased actor Chadwick Boseman, and the sequel “only” made $859.2 Mil, close to $500 Mil less than the first film. Of course, speaking of Ant-Man before, the third film, Ant-Man and Wasp: Quantumania, was absolutely reviled by fans and only made $476.1 Mil, $200 less than the sequel and $100 less than the first film. There was an obvious downward trend, quite steep and stark in places, that Marvel needed to account for.

Of course, it was hard to get a gauge on how The Marvels was going to perform when there wasn’t a fair comparison to make. We didn’t get a Captain Marvel film outside the Avengers bump to see how she did on her own. It’s possible a solo film with just her, outside that magical butter zone, might have only made $500 Mil or so. If that was the case (and, back then, $500 Mil would have still been hugely acceptable for Marvel) then seeing it make less money for its Phase V sequel would have made sense. “Oh, she’s only tracking these numbers. We should maybe back off how much we spend on her again.” But Marvel didn’t have that data. /They had skewed numbers. It would have been hard to guess.

The question of, “what could Marvel have done,” would have been of course, “don’t spend so much money.” Marvel made all the money ever, having (for a time) the highest grossing film ever (at least until Avatar was rereleased and retook the top spot). They thought the gravy train was never going to end. But when you look at everything they’ve put out across the last three years, most of their films have underperformed. Hell, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 came out and made $20 Mil less than its predecessor despite being a film about beloved characters that was reviewed very well, that audiences loved, and was the conclusion of the whole Guardians arc. At this point, if it doesn’t have SpidermanSure, DC Comics has Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, but among the most popular superheroes stands a guy from Marvel Comics, a younger hero dressed in red and blue who shoots webs and sticks to walls. Introduced in the 1960s, Spider-Man has been a constant presence in comics and more, featured in movies regularly since his big screen debut in 2002. in it, it’s no longer a slam dunk for the studio.

The solution is, of course, for Marvel to slow their roll, to spend less money, to spend more time developing their films (and their shows, god we haven’t even touched upon their shows in this article and how much they diluted the brand). We’ve talked about that before, that it feels like marvel is just spraying content out now and not taking the time to make us care. That’s the fault of the shareholders, getting in the way and telling the studio to do more, to make more content, to give them anything they can put on Disney+Disney's answer in the streaming service game, Disney+ features the studio's (nearly) full back catalog, plus new movies and shows from the likes of the MCU and Star Wars., but it still wrecked. The franchise. Point fingers where you want, the damage is done.

Still, you gotta feel bad for The Marvels. It didn’t really deserve the hate it got, and it really doesn’t deserve to be Marvel’s lowest grossing film of all time. The movie, while not perfect, was better than that. But if that’s what Marvel needs to snap out of it, pull the reins, and actually start making good content again, then I suppose there’s some small value to be had from that. Sorry, ladies.