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A record-low opening for the latest instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe should raise alarm bells at Disney headquarters following a series of subpar results.
The worldwide weekend total of $US110 million ($173 million) included a disappointing $US47 million in North America and just $2.9 million in Australia – raising questions about whether audiences are getting worn out by too many superhero movies with sometimes confusingly interconnected streaming series.
Iman Vellani (left) as Ms Marvel, Brie Larson as Captain Marvel, and Teyonah Parris as Captain Monica Rambeau in The Marvels.Credit: Marvel
According to Numero box office figures, The Marvels opening weekend in Australia was the third lowest of 33 movies that Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has produced since 2008.
It’s a list topped by Avengers: Endgame (which opened with $34.1 million on the way to earning $84.2 million), Spider-Man: No Way Home ($26.2 million), Avengers: Infinity War ($21.2 million), Thor: Love and Thunder ($15.8 million) and Avengers: Age of Ultron ($15.7 million).
The only Marvel movies to have weaker opening weekends – without adjusting earnings for inflation – are 2021’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings ($1.95 million) and 2008’s The Incredible Hulk ($2 million).
The Marvels opening is especially disappointing for Marvel Studios – total box office more than $US30 billion – given some of the bold decisions behind the film.
It was the studio’s first superhero film with three female lead characters, played by Brie Larson, Iman Vellani and Teyonah Parris, and Nia DaCosta (Candyman) was the first Black woman to direct one of its movies.
For a $US200 million movie that would have cost another $US100 million to market, the result was widely seen as a disaster.
Opening just days after the end of the Hollywood actors’ strike that prevented Larson and her co-stars from promoting it until almost opening day, worldwide box office was well down on the $US140 million that had been predicted.
The Marvels, a reasonably well reviewed movie about three superheroines who have to unite to save the universe when their powers become entangled, is a sequel to 2019’s Captain Marvel, which starred Larson in the title role.
Brie Larson as Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers in The Marvels.Credit: Marvel
The first instalment was a hit that opened with $13.6 million in this country on the way to grossing $41.6 million.
The two other stars played the same characters in Disney + series: Vellani was Kamala Khan in Ms Marvel and Parris was Monica Rambeau in WandaVision.
Some box office analysts blamed superhero fatigue, pointing to disappointing results for DC Comics’ The Flash, Blue Beetle and Shazam! Fury of the Gods as well as Marvel’s Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania earlier this year.
Others noted it had two uninspiring trailers and suggested the lack of a strong marketing push showed Marvel did not have the same faith as it did for Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 3 which was a hit earlier this year and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which was both a hit and Oscars contender late last year.
Given it continued stories from two Disney + series, it seemed to lack the uniqueness that justifies paying for a movie.
Disney’s executive vice president of theatrical distribution, Tony Chambers, told The New York Times 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.
Online entertainment site Deadline Hollywood suggested The Marvels, with its crossover streaming series, looked like “it was built to be seen in homes, not to get audiences off the couch”.
It added: “Excellent superhero movies sell, and there was no pulse on The Marvels going back to San Diego Comic-Con [in July] … It’s as though Disney knew this whipped-cream sequel was a dud and cut their losses.”
The failure of The Marvels is also a blow for cinemas, which were still recovering from the disruptions of the pandemic when the actors’ strike pushed some major releases, including Dune: Part Two and The Dry sequel Force of Nature, into next year so they could be promoted better.
The next test of how real superhero fatigue is will come with the release of DC’s Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom at Christmas.
Marvel has time to learn any lessons from Captain Marvel as it continues phase five of the MCU. Its only superhero movie currently scheduled for cinema release next year is Deadpool 3 and that’s not due out until July.
Email Garry Maddox at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @gmaddox.
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