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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Marvel flounders at the box office with ‘The Marvels’

A billboard advertisement for “The Marvels” in West Hollywood, Calif., Nov. 9, 2023. “The Marvels,” a sequel costing roughly $300 million to make and market, arrived to $47 million in ticket sales in the United States and Canada, the lowest ever for a Marvel release.

By Brooks Barnes

The once-superheroic Marvel Studios is now merely mortal.

For 15 years, Marvel delivered one hit movie after another — 32 in all, with “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” which collected $846 million in May, the most recent. Sure, there were wobbles. “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” arrived to $106 million in February and collected $476 million by the end of its run. Even Marvel’s lesser blockbusters, however, were still blockbusters.

But the boutique studio stumbled badly over the weekend, with “The Marvels,” a sequel costing roughly $300 million to make and market that arrived to $47 million in ticket sales in the United States and Canada, the lowest ever for a Marvel release. “This opening is an unprecedented Marvel box office collapse,” said David A. Gross, a film consultant who publishes a newsletter on ticket sales.

Until now, “The Incredible Hulk,” released in 2008, was the studio’s worst debut — at $79 million in the United States and Canada, after adjusting for inflation. “The Marvels” is a sequel to “Captain Marvel,” which generated $153 million in opening-weekend ticket sales at domestic theaters in 2019.

“The Marvels,” about a trio of superheroines whose powers become entangled, took in an additional $63.3 million overseas. Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris and Iman Vellani play the lead roles, with Parris and Vellani reprising characters they originated on Disney+ series. “The Marvels” was directed by Nia DaCosta, the first Black woman to oversee a Marvel film.

Tony Chambers, The Walt Disney Co.’s executive vice president of theatrical distribution, acknowledged that the results were “disappointing” given Marvel’s “unparalleled batting average.” “There may have been a barrier to entry, with some people assuming they needed to have already watched the Disney+ shows in order to know what was going on in the film,” he said.

Chambers added, however, “We know the film is resonating with female audiences. We’re going to keep the pressure up and fight the good fight into Thanksgiving.”

No one in Hollywood expected “The Marvels” to do as well as “Captain Marvel,” which came out between two megahits, “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame.” But Disney, earlier in the fall, had hoped “The Marvels” would arrive to at least $70 million in domestic ticket sales, a passable result.

To a degree, “The Marvels” was hurt by the actors strike, which prevented Larson and her co-stars from participating in promotional events — at least until Wednesday, when the 118-day strike was resolved. Superhero fatigue also probably played a role. Audiences have started to become pickier about these spectacles, with duds like “Blue Beetle” and “Shazam! Fury of the Gods,” both from DC Studios, as recent evidence.

“You’ve Seen This Movie 32 Times Before,” read the headline for The New York Times review of “The Marvels.”

Gross, the analyst, noted that “The Marvels” is the third superhero sequel featuring female characters to flop. The other two are “Wonder Woman: 1984,” which was hurt by the pandemic, and “Birds of Prey,” starring Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. “Female-powered entertainment is enjoying extraordinary success right now, but audiences are not embracing these stories,” he said.

The biggest reason Marvel Studios fell to earth over the weekend probably involves its corporate owner, Disney, which has pushed Marvel to drastically increase its output in recent years. Desperate for content that might attract Disney+ streaming subscribers, Disney had Marvel start churning out television series, which resulted in visual effects of wildly varying quality and a rat’s nest of story lines that even some ardent fans, not to mention casual ones, had a hard time following.

“I’ve always felt that quantity can be actually a negative when it comes to quality,” Bob Iger, Disney’s CEO, said on an earnings-related conference call Wednesday. “And I think that’s exactly what happened. We lost some focus.”

Disney is scaling back. There is only one Marvel Studios film on the company’s release schedule for next year. (That would be “Deadpool 3,” which is set to arrive in July.) On Thursday, Disney pushed back three other Marvel movies: “Captain America: Brave New World,” “Blade” and “Thunderbolts,” which are all set to arrive in 2025.

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