Marvel Flounders at the Box Office With ‘The Marvels’

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.

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

Mr. 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,” Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive, said on an earnings-related conference call on 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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