The latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe landed with a lackluster thud. While it just barely managed to get a fresh Rotten Tomatoes critic approval rating, its box office performance is where it truly missed the mark.
The Marvels budget was estimated to be upwards of $274.8 million, and it only managed to pull in $206.6 million globally at the box office, making it the first MCU theatrical project not to earn back its full reported budget. It's also the lowest-grossing of all 33 movies that Marvel Studios movies.
Is Superhero Fatigue to Blame for The Marvels' Underperformance?
Many will be quick to point fingers at the catch-all term superhero fatigue. But that is not a thing, and it has not been for the last two decades it has been used.
Instead, the biggest problem the MCU faces is how people are simply tired of poor-quality projects. To make matters worse, with how much superhero content there is, even just being mediocre isn't cutting it anymore.
The criticism faced by the entire genre is stronger than it has ever been, and perhaps that is a good thing. But that also means studios need to really up their game.
Marvel Studios has not been on the best roll. Besides Loki and WandaVision, most of its Disney+ slate has gotten a lukewarm reception—just like two of its biggest movies in recent years: Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love and Thunder.
The situation has only gotten worse.
2023 started off with Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania, a film that was critically ravaged in every conceivable way.
Then there was Secret Invasion, a project that is almost universally accepted by fans as the worst thing Marvel Studios had put out to date (a position formerly held by Thor: The Dark World).
By the time The Marvels came around, fans were simply fed up with the success ratio of the MCU's output.
Can Marvel Studios Recover?
While it will certainly be difficult for the MCU to earn back the faith audiences once had in it, it is far from impossible.
Good superhero movies can still perform admirably. Just look at both Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and Across the Spider-Verse as proof (Vol. 3 made $845 million worldwide while Spider-Verse nabbed $690 million).
Marvel Studios has been on a bender when it comes to changes behind the scenes, retooling products like Daredevil: Born Again, rebooting Blade, ordering extensive reshoots, and more. The studio clearly sees that something is off, which it hopes to repair.
A lot is riding on Deadpool 3. With it being the only MCU theatrical release this year, it has the potential to do even more harm than normal if it bombs—but, given its team-up status, it is hard to imagine it flopping hard.
But it is not just Marvel Studios that has a say in the superhero landscape.
2024 has three Sony Pictures Spider-Man movies, which could do as much harm to the genre as any regular MCU might. When it comes to Sony's track record, it's notably rocky (just take a look back at this truly abysmal post-credits for Morbius).
However, if 2025 comes, and fans remain just as poisoned against the genre as they are now, James Gunn's DCU might have trouble ever getting off the ground.
The Marvels is now streaming on Disney+.