The Marvels flop: end game for superhero box office streak?

The 33rd film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe earned just $47 million on its opening weekend, prompting claims of 'superhero fatigue'

The Marvels on a massive board outside the Vue cinema in the West End in London
The 33rd film in the series has secured its place in infamy within the Marvel Cinematic Universe
(Image credit: Getty Images/OGULCAN AKSOY)

"The Marvels" has debuted with the lowest opening weekend box-office takings in the 15-year history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

 The follow-up to 2019's "Captain Marvel" has been labelled "one of the biggest busts of the year", said Dexerto, after taking just $47 million domestically in the first three days following its release on 10 November. Earning even less than the "maligned" 2008 "The Incredible Hulk", the 33rd film in the series has "secured its place in infamy" within the MCU. 

These numbers are "sobering" for a film with a reported budget of $250 million, said The Hollywood Reporter, and have left commentators asking whether "Marvel's days in the limelight over"?

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The background

Marvel "was on top of the world" four years ago when it released "Avengers: Endgame". This film was "the biggest movie in the history of cinema", according to The Guardian's Stuart Heritage, and capped off "an unprecedented run of multibillion-dollar successes" that "changed the movie industry forever". Until very recently, Heritage added, "the ascent of Marvel had been a thing of relentless propulsion". 

There was a time when a new MCU release "would be a guaranteed hit", said The Hollywood Reporter, with films including "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever", "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3", and "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" all recent hits released over the last 18 months. 

It's "unquestionable" that many perceive the MCU as being "a franchise in decline", added Dextero, with most of the negative reviews focusing "on the film's overall impact on the MCU" and "the fact it feels like a piece of a puzzle that seems to be losing its lustre". It joins other recent MCU projects including "She-Hulk" and "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania", which faced CGI criticisms, as well as "Thor: Love & Thunder" which was called too "jokey".   

It's "undeniable", added The Hollywood Reporter, that Marvel Studios "can no longer rely" on its name "to get butts in seats". 

The latest 

There are several possible factors to blame for the "poor turnout" for "The Marvels", continued The Hollywood Reporter. These include the actors' strike, which prevented the "charismatic leads" Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris and Iman Vellani from promoting the film, as well as "lacklustre marketing" and "superhero fatigue".

Meanwhile, "everyone" at Marvel's recent "angst-ridden" annual retreat was "reeling from a series of disappointments on-screen" as well as a legal scandal and questions around strategy, said Variety. The film was "plagued with lengthy reshoots", and the release date was "moved back twice" to "give filmmakers more time to tinker". But, Variety added, "that extra time didn't necessarily help". 

The fact that "The Marvels" followed so closely in the footsteps of "Secret Invasion", which was "panned by critics and audiences alike", "didn't help audience confidence" that it would be a step up, continued Dextero. Many have pointed out the "oversaturation of MCU content has contributed to this negativity" because both quality has "declined" and leadership has been "stretched thin", which makes every new film "feel less impactful".

The reaction

Things "seem to be falling apart at a berserk pace", said The Guardian's Heritage, and it isn't so much an "uphill battle" because that would "imply that only one thing has gone wrong". Rather, the MCU is "bogged down" by several factors including poor quality, apathetic stars, a rebellious workforce and "indifferent" audiences.

The MCU "has worked its way into a bit of a hole", said The Independent's Jacob Stolworthy, who added the number of films you'd need to watch before "The Marvels" is "a bit much". It "spells trouble", he continued, as "we're a bit Marvelled out". 

The "overabundance of content" means it's harder to maintain the continuity that fans have come to enjoy, said Heritage, and the appeal has been "diluted by the pile of mediocre Disney+ television shows it has been pumping out". The effect is Marvel "has started to feel like homework".

That said, with characters like Spider-Man and the Hulk, as well as X-Men and Fantastic Four "waiting in the wings", it's "unlikely that the Marvel machine will stop rolling", said Dextero. Those who think "this is the nadir of the biggest franchise on the planet" might need to "recalibrate [their] expectations".

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