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Is this the beginning of the end for the MCU? This question arises following the poor box office performance of The Marvels, which made only $47 million—the worst Marvel debut in history—over opening weekend.
To be fair, The Marvels had the cards stacked against it. The film comes a lengthy four years after its prequel, Captain Marvel. It necessitated four weeks of reshoots and was mired in drama when director Nia DaCosta flew to London during post-production. (It turns out there’s more to the story.) The film’s star, Brie Larson, has received more hate than anyone else in the MCU, which isn’t exactly great for PR. And none of the cast were able to promote the film due to the SAG-AFTRA strike.
Sexist elements of the fandom aside, is The Marvels’ failure at the box office an indication that fans have become disillusioned with the studio?
The answer is complicated. Some fans react defensively to the claim that Marvel is in its flop era. A recent article in Variety suggesting that Marvel is in crisis was met with anger and incredulity by certain fans. One Reddit user called the article a “vengeful hit piece,” and another suggested it was “written with intent to ruin Marvel’s next film.” Others took issue with the critical response to The Marvels, arguing that negative reviews are part of a trend of “hating popular things.” And we can’t forget the backlash to Martin Scorsese’s comments that MCU films are more like theme parks than cinema.
However, plenty of MCU fans agree that Marvel is going downhill. There are several theories as to why this is. “Disney+ ruined the MCU,” wrote one fan. Another Redditor suggested this recent focus on the multiverse is “unappealing” to mainstream audiences. A self-described “Marvel super fan” noted they are tired of the “deluge of content” from the MCU and are no longer excited for new productions. One user got to the heart of the problem: “The real issue is the erosion of trust with the audience.”
This may seem like a rather stark shift in opinion, especially considering the record-breaking success of Avengers: Endgame. But that was way back in Phase 3, and we’re now in Phase 5, which one fan called “the worst slate in the MCU’s history.” For viewers who really love the MCU or the comics these films and shows are based on, this strategy of quantity over quality is disappointing. Fans want Marvel movies to be good, and losing these core viewers is bad for business.
This change in public perception is more than just anecdotal. Two different studies indicate that viewers are starting to experience superhero fatigue due in large part to Marvel’s method of flooding the market with content. According to Fandom’s study, 36% of fans feel fatigued by the amount of media released, while only 20% of DC fans feel that way. (Notably, Marvel fans are more likely than DC fans to watch anything released by the studio.)
MCU fans and haters alike are familiar with the Marvel formula, but that predictability may no longer be a good thing. This sense of disinvestment in the studio’s constant output is becoming more and more widespread.
Why it matters
It looks like Marvel’s system of treating film and television like endlessly reiterative content is starting to backfire. But what can be done?
Fans are driven by emotion. The reason Infinity War and Endgame were so successful is that viewers were emotionally invested in the characters and their storylines, as well as in the company itself. If Marvel wants to get fans excited again, they need to capture fans’ hearts, not just their eyeballs.