Written by: Mark Aguilar 🇸🇻
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is arguably the most successful film franchise ever. The model of telling an over-arching story over different film franchises, culminating into film events like the Avengers films, has tried to be replicated by other studios with varying success. However, none have succeeded like Marvel when Avengers: Endgame was released in 2019 and became the highest-grossing film in Hollywood history at the time. Since then, the franchise has failed to meet the same critical and commercial success of films. This has never been so obvious after the abysmal 2023 lineup that now has fans questioning the future of these films.
The year started with the release of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which was met with mixed reactions and returned a mediocre $476 million at the box office while being on a reported $200 million budget. Things weren’t made easier as allegations about one of the leads of the film, Jonathan Majors, were beginning to come out. Majors has been cast as a villain who’s supposed to appear in other Marvel projects, so these allegations could force Disney to scrap those plans or recast him in the future.
Later in May, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 was released in theaters, which admittedly was a hit for the studio both commercially and critically. The film was meant to be a self-contained story that didn’t advance the greater MCU storyline, which was a nice change of pace that could be welcomed for other projects in the future.
The following month saw the release of a Disney+ series, Secret Invasion, which flopped with audiences and critics. Many creative decisions in the series angered fans, and the series overall failed to excite people about the direction the MCU was taking with certain characters.
In the fall, however, Loki season 2 was released and again we saw this flip from the fans who generally felt positive about the season.
Going back to the theatrical releases, Marvel has just released their newest film, The Marvels, to the lowest opening weekend in the franchise’s 15-year history at $47 million. The critical reception of the film has also been one of the worst in the MCU’s history. There are a lot of reasons as to why this film bombed as badly as it did, and the quality of the film is certainly one of them.
Another potential reason for the failure of this film could be the lack of knowledge general audiences have of some of the titular characters. Ms. Marvel is one of the leads in the film, a character who was introduced in the lowest-viewed Marvel Disney+ show. Monica Rambeau is also a character introduced in a Disney+ show, WandaVision, which is now two years old and she played a minor role in that show.
The failure of The Marvels is both surprising and predictable. It’s surprising in a sense that this is a film that is also supposed to serve as a sequel to Captain Marvel, which was released in 2019 and grossed over $1 billion. To go from a billion dollars to the lowest opening MCU film ever is quite surprising, but there was little excitement going into the film.
With the recent releases of Marvel projects being either hit or miss, how can this constitute to label the entire franchise as failing? Well, there are a few reasons.
Firstly, this franchise before the release of Endgame used to rarely miss. Even if films missed critically, they would make a ton of money. Case in point: Captain Marvel. This film received fairly mixed reviews, but still made a billion dollars because fans didn’t care and were invested in each installment of the MCU. Even Ant-Man and the Wasp managed to pull in $622 million despite not being related to the events going on in the Avengers movies. Marvel dominated the box office no matter what the film was, but that is no longer the case anymore.
Secondly, the future doesn't seem too exciting. What… If season 2 is an animated series that will have no serious effect on the franchise. Echo season 1 follows a side character from a forgotten Disney+ series who was unknown before the series came out. Deadpool 3 feels like it could be an exception, although Shawn Levy is a very uninspiring choice to direct the film. The Agatha Harkness series feels unnecessary. The same could be said for the Thunderbolts. Captain America: Brave New World also feels uninspired by a studio not wanting to let the Captain America title go unused.
Blade feels like it could be different and breathe new life into the franchise, but numerous script issues have delayed the film. And lastly, the two announced Avengers films for 2026 and 2027 feel unearned. The previous Avengers films felt like there was a build, but these upcoming ones again feel like the studio not wanting to let their cash-cow Avengers property die and continue producing guaranteed money.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is losing the general audience, according to their recent box office performance. Numerous other problems plague the franchise, such as the oversaturation of content being released, lack of quality of these projects, overreliance on CGI that looks worse and worse after every project, and lack of vision moving forward. If the MCU wants to pick up the heights it was once at, there’ll need to be an overhaul at Marvel Studios.