“The Marvels,” the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), massively underperformed expectations at the box office during its opening weekend, bringing in just $47 million. The disappointing premier of the MCU’s 33rd film, billed as a “historic” entry for its female director and co-stars, marks a continuing decline for the once-unstoppable comic book franchise, which has seen several recent titles bomb as “superhero fatigue” spreads.
“The Marvels” served as a sequel to 2019’s “Captain Marvel,” which starred Brie Larson as the titular heroine. “Captain Marvel” opened to $153.4 million at the box office—far from an MCU record, but still respectable by franchise standards. In the 2023 follow-up—a $200 million production—Captain Marvel teams up with an assortment of female characters from other Marvel shows and films, including Kamala Khan and Monica Rambeau, played by Iman Vellani and Teyonah Parris respectively.
Ahead of its release, “The Marvels” was celebrated for its female representation, as well as the fact that director Nia DaCosta was the youngest person and the first Black woman to head up an MCU production. However, given the film’s tragic fate at the box office, any hopes that Disney-owned Marvel Studios may have had of translating that representation into commercial success have been dashed.
Prior to the film’s premier, prediction websites revised their projections from a $75-80 million opening to $60-65 million, but even this proved to be overly optimistic. Until now, the distinction for lowest-grossing Marvel film went to 2015’s “Ant-Man,” which brought in $57.2 million (or 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk” at $55.4 million, not adjusting for inflation).
The subpar performance of “The Marvels” is attributed in part to the Screen Actors Guild strike, which ended just two days before the film’s primer. The 118-day work stoppage, which coincided with a related strike by the Writers Guild of America, prevented almost all advertising for the new superhero flick, depriving it of the usual Marvel ad push.
However, some film critics and industry insiders are also blaming the “superhero fatigue” phenomenon that has arisen among moviegoers. Following the release of “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018) and “Avengers: Endgame” (2019)—which marked franchise high points and grossed $257 million and $357 million respectively—superhero fans seemed to become increasingly choosy in the saturated market. Even Disney CEO Bob Iger has been willing to admit that Marvel’s lineup of offerings might be overwhelming fans.
“The Marvels” currently has a 62% critical score and 84% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.