To say Marvel Studios’ 2023 didn’t go as planned would be the biggest understatement since Tony Stark said he was a bit rich.
Granted, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and Loki season 2 are up there with the best the franchise has to offer, but the MCU’s year has still suffered several of its most embarrassing failures too, including Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Secret Invasion, and most of all, The Marvels. With its shockingly meager box office numbers, the sequel to 2019’s Captain Marvel — which brought home over $1 billion, don’t forget — is destined to become the lowest-grossing MCU movie ever.
But why, of all the Marvel films released lately, did this unfortunate fate befall The Marvels? It’s difficult to say, as there are so many contributing factors, both in and outside of the movie itself, but a confluence of the following five reasons probably has something to do with it.
The promotional woes
Image via Marvel Studios
For starters, The Marvels had the misfortune to release right at the tail-end of the actors’ strike. Although the new SAG-AFTRA deal was signed days after its release, so Brie Larson and Iman Vellani were able to blitz through some talk show and red carpet appearances, for months beforehand the movies’ leads were forced to maintain a radio silence on the film, leaving director Nia DaCosta to carry the press tour on her back.
The movie’s promotional woes also stretched to the trailers too. Clearly, Marvel pitching it as a fun, breezy team-up flick was not doing it for folks so, in the last stretch, the studio made a hard pivot to marketing The Marvels as some kind of spiritual sequel to Avengers: Endgame, complete with archive footage of your old favorites and Alan Silvestri’s iconic theme. It was shameless nostalgia bait and fans saw through it immediately.
It had no positive word of mouth
Image via Marvel Studios
The Marvels may have been following up on a billion-dollar blockbuster, but that blockbuster was Captain Marvel, the infamously review-bombed MCU debut of Brie Larson, the most bizarrely hated person on the internet in some quarters. That left the sequel facing a ton of inherited controversy before it had even released a frame of footage. Unfortunately, this poor word of mouth only got worse as it went along.
Perhaps this doesn’t explain its initial awful opening weekend performance, but The Marvels could’ve redeemed itself if it had a sky-high Rotten Tomatoes score to recommend it and enthusiastic fan reactions. As it happened, it’s the third worst-reviewed Marvel movie on the site and it’s proving extremely divisive within the fandom, just like, well, basically every other recent MCU release.
It was a sequel to too many things
Images via Marvel Studios/Remix by Christian Bone
For those who devour every entry in the MCU, the fact that The Marvels was self-admittedly a sequel to about five different projects — Captain Marvel, WandaVision, Ms. Marvel, Secret Invasion, and Avengers: Endgame — was a big plus. For casual moviegoers, though, it was the prime example of why the MCU is way too difficult to follow these days. Revisiting all of those films and shows, many of which are from years ago, would be almost a full 24-hour commitment.
Interestingly, this is something Marvel seems to be aware of, as it’s just launched the Marvel Spotlight banner for those upcoming Disney Plus shows — e.g. Echo — that it’s deeming stand apart from the wider Multiverse Saga. It’s unclear if this will expand onto the big screen too, but going by The Marvels‘ reception, that would be a good idea.
It felt inconsequential
Screencap via Marvel Studios
It might seem antithetical to the last point, but as well as being a follow-up to about half a dozen other things, at the same time The Marvels perhaps felt too inconsequential for many casual fans to bother with it. As said above, the original trailers pitched it as a carefree cosmic runaround with characters we’d already met before. A one-and-done adventure that wasn’t going to make or break the MCU.
Sure, we now know it has the important job of setting up the X-Men, but that’s only in the post-credits scene. Marvel initially leaned way too hard into promoting The Marvels as just another episode of your favorite big-screen TV series when, actually, 2023 has taught us that audiences are hungry for huge, important event movies, like Barbie and Oppenheimer.
It seems Marvel fatigue is real
Images via Marvel Studios/20th Century Fox
Talk about superhero fatigue has been going on for years now, and back in the days when the MCU was regularly raking in a billion a movie it was easy to wave it all away. Now, however, with no Marvel film crossing that all-important margin since 2021’s Spider-Man: No Way Home (and even that was a collab with Sony), it’s getting harder and harder to deny.
As the success of the Barbenheimer phenomenon shows, it does feel like the world is leaving behind the whole cinematic universe craze and is now hungry for movies that deliver something we haven’t seen before. Indiana Jones 5, Fast X, Mission: Impossible 7… All faced lower box office than previous installments. So, by this metric, it stands to reason that the 32nd (!) Marvel Studios’ production would fare the worst. Branding might not have helped either. If people are getting sick of Marvel, calling it The Marvels isn’t exactly going to woo them back.
With only one Marvel release set for 2024 in the form of the much-anticipated Deadpool 3, the studio now has time to rest and restrategize and come back stronger than ever in 2025. Of course, James Gunn’s shiny new DCU launches that same year, but let’s just tackle one problem at a time…