Marvel Studios’ has faced its worst opening weekend with The Marvels. Is it a simple discussion surrounding superhero or Marvel fatigue? Going by just how varied the discussions are online, it’s very likely not as simple as anyone wants it to be. One could discuss the impact of the last few years, a rough 2023 box office for blockbusters, the SAG as well as WGA strikes, and many more factors. So, there might simply not be a singular reason and just a lot of elements coming together.
Of course, these kinds of numbers establish the expected “end” of Marvel Studios’ discussion online. Articles have dropped announcing that the films are no longer events which is why no one is watching them. Certain subsections proclaim the end of Marvel due to “wokeness” and whatever personal reason one has when leaving the franchise behind as “it should’ve ended with Endgame” echoes throughout the dark corners of the web. For years, the discussion was that superhero movies would go the way of the Western and if that point has been reached, we’ll likely see a very different Marvel Studios moving forward.
As such, it seems like the perfect time to discuss what exactly the future might hold for Marvel Studios and likely the results that’ll come from this blow at the box office. We have no insight into what Marvel Studios will truly do moving forward but there are already some minor hints that may tease what the future has in store and what we can expect from the studio that reinvented blockbusters for over 15 years. We’re at a crossroads and potentially the beginning of a new era moving forward.
First Signs Exist in 2023
Bob Iger returned as the CEO of Disney, which saw Bob Chapek try his best to figure out what exactly they would be doing during a pandemic. He carried over the Disney+ goals that were started by his predecessor only to buckle under the weight and get replaced. Yet, Iger’s run since hasn’t been something one would describe as a “return to form” but he has pointed out that a reduction of releases is something they are definitely going to review the future.
At the time the pandemic hit, we were leaning into a huge increase in how much we were making. 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.Bob Iger
2023 was still a big push from all studios to make bank after a rough pandemic, but it has led to many films fizzling out. As much as we want to point to Barbenheimer and Super Mario Bros. Movie as a showcase of how strong the year was: it simply wasn’t. Many films have bloated budgets due to filming during COVID and subsequently were never going to truly make their money back outside of some massive numbers. Prices are on the rise and with a cost of living crisis affecting people’s decisions, it becomes clear that people are far more selective than they’ve ever been (a reason it’s not as simple as just fatigue).
One thing is clear though: we’ll see fewer releases moving forward. We already saw the reduction of output in 2023 with only two Disney+ series hitting the streaming service with quite a bit of time between each release; even if Secret Invasion didn’t quite help matters. The Marvels was pushed from July to November, which ended up hurting it due to the actor’s strike heavily hampering its promotion build-up. So, we’re already in the middle of a transition phase for the studio.
New Disney+ Strategy
Actually, there is one new highlight I ended up leaving out and that is Marvel Spotlight. Out of nowhere, Marvel Studios unveiled an entirely new banner just for their “grounded” stories that aren’t necessary for the major storyline being told throughout the phases. It was a strategic move that definitely left some ripples alongside a strong first impression with Echo’s trailer. Ever since there’s been a bit more positivity in the air that was definitely needed for the franchise that has been. Of course, outlets were still ready to say it’s too late or won’t fix any of the issues it’s facing. Head of Streaming, Brad Winderbaum, shared the inspiration for this new brand:
Marvel Spotlight gives us a platform to bring more grounded, character-driven stories to the screen, and in the case of Echo, focusing on street-level stakes over larger MCU continuity. Just like comics fans didn’t need to read Avengers or Fantastic Four to enjoy a Ghost Rider Spotlight comic.Brad Winderbaum
It’s unclear if this might just become the de facto banner for the Disney+ shows and the way it is being described is to ease viewers into it. The fact of the matter is: there’s a lot of debate about Disney+ and the film’s connections potentially muddling viewership a bit, especially with The Marvels that technically ties into multiple stories. While many have been quick to point out that every Marvel film quickly introduces elements from these shows and doesn’t require audiences to do the homework they complain about online, it’s a clever way to just visually create a distinction and ease audiences in.
Still, one thing that the Disney+ shows should do is focus primarily on becoming the venue of exploring either side stories from movie characters or simply setting up its own subset within the grander universe. In a way, they could take the Defenders approach from Netflix and simply have its own little build-up with various characters that can bleed into Avengers releases that tie the entire Phase together. Small references here or there could ease viewers in but not lead to discussions of: “why is Ms. Marvel headlining a movie, does it mean I need to watch her show to know who she is?”
Daredevil and Echo could become the grounded, street-level heroes on Disney+ that are visually and much more distinct from what they do with the movies. That would also help make the films stand out more, as these shows are no longer just as bombastic and expensive as their main counterparts. Agents of SHIELD worked as a complementary series that looked like it was part of the universe but distinctively is a TV series.
New Cinematic Strategy
2024 will only give us Deadpool 3 and that likely is mainly due to the writer’s strike but also potentially a deliberate choice to restructure next year. The only question is if they will stick with their 2025 schedule, which now includes three releases as is the usual norm for the studio. Yet, we might see them move away from that once they start reshuffling moving forward.
The biggest problem that plagues these films is the production costs that have ballooned since COVID. The Marvels marks the final production that occurred during that time with everything heading our way in the coming years once again being under somewhat normal production rules for the studio moving forward. Though the SAG and WGA strikes are definitely going to show their thorns with Captain America: Brave New World which is getting extensive reshoots and Deadpool 3.
Still, it would seem wise to perhaps pull back a bit going into 2025. Once again rolling out three films and who knows how many Disney+ series might just set them right back to where they are currently. Perhaps going back to the days of two releases a year to slowly build up momentum again might be the best way forward.
Hell, if they do it right they could have one major event release per year with a bigger budget behind it, something we might see with Captain America 4, and then try to focus on a smaller project in that same year which can make back its money with even a softer release. Blade is rumored to have a $100M production budget and would perfectly fit that very bill. Once things “normalize” we might see the old MCU budgets back in action, as the current ones are definitely not intended. That way they can build up relevance and still given minor characters a spotlight even if they carry a bigger box office risk.
No Single Solution
Even making these examples and ideas of how Marvel Studios could move forward; mostly based on what signs are already there; there’s no true single solution to it all. Every franchise will eventually end up in a slump and the box office developments between The Marvels and previous projects are still showcasing a distinction. The current slump may remain an anomaly due to multiple factors affecting its release and the question will be if Deadpool 3 can draw in a crowd given where Marvel stands.
Going into 2024, I wouldn’t expect many more releases outside of Echo and perhaps one more Disney+ series. There’s a chance the binge model works for them so they do make use of it to avoid the series occupying too much time and potentially not leading to the consensus of overwhelming audiences. Yet, this year has proven that they can have a massive success like Loki’s second season and a mild reception like Secret Invasion.
The clear thing is: that once they show more consistency moving forward for audiences as they build toward Avengers: Secret Wars, we might see audiences once again return to theaters to not miss out on the latest Marvel movie. The studio is at a crossroads rather than an immediate stop. Whatever happens, moving forward depends on how they react to this current status and how they decide to build upon it moving forward.