Entertainment press are singing the woes of Marvel Studios, after a Variety story that framed the studio’s box office, streaming, and casting issues as major problems threatening the studio’s sustainability and sense of how to respond to changing theatrical and streaming environments. But the reality is Marvel’s woes are overstated, in a media environment increasingly prone to hyperbole.

That’s not to say Marvel — along with all studios and streamers — doesn’t face some hurdles going forward. But the nature of those obstacles for Marvel are frankly pretty obvious; it’s mostly things Marvel has overcome before; and regardless of those issues and the need to address them, Marvel is still actually doing pretty good right now even amid the problems they’ve had.

So let’s just unpack what’s really going wrong, and what it means for Marvel Studios.

The situation with actor Jonathan Majors — the star of several Marvel films and streaming shows, as the MCU’s time-traveling villain Kang the Conqueror — is that he faces multiple accusations of abuse, and is scheduled to stand trial for one recent case. After that case was initially reported, other accusations surfaced, as did previous public statements from years ago by performers who asserted accusations of abuse were already circulating about Majors.

So yes, Marvel will almost certainly recast Kang. Lucky for Marvel, the character literally exists across a near-infinite number of alternate realities where he takes different forms and changes appearance. Likewise, Marvel has had to recast characters in the past, just like lots of other franchise or TV/streaming series. This isn’t brain surgery, and the framing of this issue as something that could sink Marvel’s whole future plans is frankly nonsense.

Just one great example, Marvel could offer the role to John Boyega (who I’d argue should’ve been the top candidate for the role in the first place). Or maybe Denzel Washington as an iteration of Kang who sat out the in-fighting and collective efforts of the rest of the Kangs and grew older and wiser as he made his plans to take over. Or maybe Ray Fisher could be offered the role, if Marvel wants to poke DC and WBD while scoring a great casting option.

Or perhaps Marvel could offer the role to Leslie Odom Jr., Lakeith Stanfield, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Daveed Diggs, Stephan James, or any number of other fantastic casting choices to take over the role of Kang in the MCU.

The point is, the worst part of the situation with John Majors is if the allegations are true and women suffered this abuse while Hollywood ignored it. The casting “problem” is small potatoes by comparison, and is easy to solve.

So let’s look at the financials now, since a central claim to the “Marvel is in trouble” narrative is that the studio is struggling at the box office while streaming is an unpopular mess.

At the box office, it’s true Marvel hit a high point with their back to back releases of the two-part Avengers conclusion to the Infinity Saga. The $2.79 billion from Endgame and $2 billion from Infinity War elevated the final global gross for all 22 films in that saga to more than $20 billion, for a per-film average of around $935 million.

In 2018 and 2019, the MCU put up the following numbers: Black Panther hit $1.34 billion, then Infinity War topped $2 billion, then Captain Marvel scored $1.1 billion, and then Endgame took $2.79 billion. Ant-Man and the Wasp at $622 is the only MCU film in those 24 months that failed to top $1 billion.

Since the Infinity Saga ended, Marvel’s releases have taken north of $8.1 billion across 10 movies so far, with a Multiverse Saga per film average of about $815 million. The difference between $815 million and $935 million is not insignificant, but nor is it disastrous, and it’s certainly not hard to understand why it’s happening.

The 2018 and 2019 slates for the Infinity Saga benefited from a decade of build-up, and it was those last four (out of five total) blockbusters topping $1-2 billion each that provided the final heft and resulted in an even higher per film average. We are only in the first half of the Multiverse Saga to date, and so far we haven’t had a single Avengers movie in this new saga, while as noted the Infinity Saga ended with a one-two Avengers punch good for more than $2 million per film.

And then the fact of the Covid pandemic alone accounts for most of the rest of the downturn in Marvel Studios’ average box office performance. Even during the Covid pandemic, when films were flopping or going straight to streaming/PVOD, Marvel’s three releases that performed “badly” due to the global health crisis still managed to finish between $379.7 million on the lowest end and $432 million. That’s better than the DCEU can perform even after theaters reopened and box office started its climb back toward something resembling “normal” — at least for the right films, since 2023 has been a roller coaster ride for theatrical.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania underperformed earlier this year and wound up the weakest performer of that franchise at $476 million, but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 scored blockbuster results with $845.5 million.

Indeed, Vol. 3 is currently the fourth-highest grossing movie of 2023, both domestically and worldwide. And for the record, as disappointing as its box office was, 2023 has been so cruel to theatrical releases that Quantumania is still a top-10 box office performer.

We’ve seen one would-be blockbuster tentpole after another face-plant or otherwise disappoint, and often when a tentpole has managed a healthy box office performance it’s at a more moderate level than expected or typically enjoyed by the given franchise and/or its prior financial trajectory.

Other than Barbie, The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Oppenheimer, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, nothing else truly put up top-tier results this year. Fast X topped $700 million, but is fourth film in a row from the series to suffer a decline from its predecessor’s box office gross, and the lowest box office for the franchise since 2011’s Fast Five, so it’s a mixed bag there.

Besides that, 2023 saw three films in the $500-600 millions range, four in $400 millions territory, and a couple of $300 millions.

The makeup of the top 10 this year looks like this: Barbie, The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Oppenheimer, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Fast X, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, The Little Mermaid, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, Elemental, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.

Notice, there are three Marvel superhero movies in the top 10. Yes, one of them underperformed, but the point is that it seems silly to talk as if audience are in any widespread or large scale way turning away from superhero cinema, or that Marvel is somehow reeling from a downfall and have lost control.

The Marvels is currently tracking toward a shockingly low debut this weekend, with most projections pointing to a $130-$150 million global opening. Without at least average holds, the film could struggle to get past $300-400 million. On the other hand, I think tracking has proven pretty unreliable these days, and I believe a significant part of these disappointing numbers is the fact a lot of people are confusing this film with being another new Disney+ Marvel show, or think it is coming to Disney+ as a film soon. There’s also the general 2023 ongoing curse to consider.

But regardless, The Marvels should’ve been a home run sequel. While we can point to the unethical shenanigans and toxic behavior of fans and of certain organized hateful online voices obsessed with attacking women-driven movies or shows, if this film flops or underperforms rather than merely suffering a downward adjustment consistent with the genre overall (which would mean a box office for The Marvels in the $700 million range, I’d say), then it’s entirely fair to call it a big stumble for the studio.

The large-scale tainting of superhero cinema by the DCEU’s overarching failure the past several years (eight films in a row across five years, all failing to reach $400 million and averaging in the roughly $250 million range) coinciding with the Covid pandemic and theatrical downturn, coupled with a leveling off — not uncontrolled free-fall or any other hyperbolic situation — of Marvel’s must-see “event” status in the aftermath of their 11-year Infinity Saga’s conclusion (and lack of any Avengers team-ups for four years and counting) has no doubt reduced the dominance of the superhero genre and audience’s previous high-level anticipation.

But that sort of heightened “event” status is impossible for any franchise or genre to maintain, and no serious person expected the genre or any one studio’s piece of it to be some perpetual ever-increasing profit machine

Neither Marvel nor the genre in general need to treat the usual ebb and flow of primacy in entertainment as if it’s some major crisis threatening the existence and profitability of the studio or genre. That’s just the natural clickbait mentality driving entertainment journalism. We should be able to report on and assess such situations without resort to exaggerated portrayals for melodramatic purposes, nor parrot claims from those with obvious incentives and ulterior motives behind any of that sort of hyperbolic claims. We know better, but that doesn’t mean the profession behaves better, and so we get clickbait and studio drama delivered up like silly reality TV, and everyone pretends not to recognize it as the nonsense it usually is.

Marvel has to recast a major lead actor, something we’ve seen plenty of times by studios and projects, including literally by Marvel themselves on more than one occasion. Marvel’s first two films of 2023 grossed a combined $1.3 billion in box office. Even if The Marvels only does about half the box office of Captain Marvel — a vastly bigger drop than the Ant-Man franchise experienced, but let’s just use a 50% dramatic decrease to make the larger point — the MCU will have grossed a total of about $2.45 billion for 2023, an average of $815 million per film.

If that figure sounds familiar, it’s because I mentioned it earlier since it’s the per-film average for the MCU ever since the end of the Infinity Saga. Marvel settled back a bit from the high per-film average of $935 million, and for four years we’ve consistently seen this same new average level of performance for their films. Again, not insignificant as a drop, but in context it’s easier to understand and recognize as not a sudden emergency situation, and I suspect most studios would be happy if they could average north of $800 million per film on average every year.

And let’s face it, once the latest Avengers movies hit the radar, we’ll see the average per film gross go up during those years, just like always, and in the long run if the two scheduled Avengers movies play at the $2 billion level, that will actually result in an increase in the final average per-film gross for the Multiverse Saga, just as those huge Avengers box office grosses at the end of Infinity Saga seriously raised the saga’s per-film average.

This is all fairly predictable, within an obvious margin of error but not frankly too far of deviation. Which doesn’t negate the fact of the downturn in average performances, but rather puts it into less histrionic perspective as solvable problems for a still overwhelmingly successful studio that’s seeing per film averages still far superior to what any other studio can claim.

On streaming, where audience trends and preferences have likewise evolved during the Covid era, Marvel

First we got the ABC broadcast series: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Carter, and Inhumans. Want to take a moment to recall how did those all fair with audiences and critics?

Then came Netflix’s slate, with Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Defenders, and The Punisher — half of those got mostly good or great reviews, a couple got mixed to negative reviews, and along the way different seasons of a given show had their ups and downs. Many fans and reviewers bemoaned the general lack of tie-in to the cinematic releases, a point that’s amusing in light of how the same reviewers and fans completely reversed course a few years later to bemoan the fact the newer MCU shows often try to tie in to the MCU.

So next up are The Runaways and Cloak and Dagger, shows with younger casts and less direct connection to the rest of the MCU, but both were short lived and appeared on two different streaming services.

Which brings us to the MCU shows on Disney+, overseen by Marvel Studios itself and consisting of WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, What If…?, Hawkeye, Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, and Secret Invasion.

While The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and What If…? received mixed reactions, WandaVision and Loki got generally good to great reviews, as did Hawkeye and Moon Knight.

Ms. Marvel likewise received strong positive reviews, aside from resentful fans mostly motivated by racism or sexism who bashed the show (the same way angry bigoted fans harassed Brie Larson and tried to manipulate online reviews for Captain Marvel, and to this day engage in bizarre conspiracy theories pretending movies with women leads are secretly propped up by studios buying up tickets), and the same mob of boys and men perpetually upset that everything isn’t just a mirror reflecting themselves were incensed that She-Hulk dared make fun of them for being immature, bigoted, and all-around goofy.

Granted, She-Hulk did often have what looked like rushed and unfinished CGI, but it was also still miles ahead of most TV CGI and it didn’t detract from the entertainment value of the show and was generally fine. (Yes, plenty of folks just didn’t enjoy these shows, and I’m sure it’s entirely a coincidence that for many of them it always happens to be women-led shows that bother them or are declared “meh”).

Secret Wars is the most recent new MCU show (besides a new season of Loki), and it got mixed reviews that lean mostly positive but still point to trouble in the decision-making to develop the series, questions about

The point of all of this is, Marvel’s had a lot of superhero shows for a long time during the reign of the MCU, and the shows have tended to mostly get good or great reviews, while often suffering complaints of inconsistency in tie-ins vs stand-alone abilities, or iffy VFX, or questions about who is in charge and why certain decisions were made. Sound familiar? It should, because it’s a broken record of reality at this point, the sort that gets mentioned as if it’s a new development any time someone is pushing the latest version of the “sky is falling” narrative.

Not that there aren’t issues needing solutions. The budgets are too high, and Marvel — like many streamers — is discovering it’s simply not sustainable to spend $20 million or more per episode with rushed production schedules and increasingly unreasonable demands on VFX workers.

But the shows themselves are so far working and working pretty well, if you aren’t focused entirely on social media debates and media exaggerations. Most every MCU show on Disney+ has enjoyed positive reception from critics and viewers, enjoying good (and sometimes record-setting) viewership. Fixing the problems for the Marvel streaming plans is not really any more difficult than fixing the theatrical issues, because it’s easy to identify the problems, easy to see where the problems arose, and easy to see what is necessary to end those problems.

Nobody foresaw the Covid pandemic (or at least the extent of it) or the utterly shameful, failed public health response it elicited from governments and organizations that are paid and entrusted to prevent or deal with such crises. Marvel was caught off guard like every studio, Marvel suffered the same box office downturn as every studio, Marvel leaned into streaming like every studio, and Marvel is now having to make adjustments to adapt to the still-evolving environment theatrically and in streaming.

So media and fans and others in Hollywood pretending this is some shocking, Marvel-specific situation are making disingenuous claims, and they should know better. Most probably do, but the truth is more boring than doomsaying — and with everything else in the world falling apart, clickbait and hyperbole are the best way to get attention for entertainment news during a drought (caused by few new films/shows releasing, and the likelihood of strikes dragging into next year because studios put money toward bonuses, yachts, and private jets rather than pay artists, writers, and performers living wages from a fair share of the revenue they generate).

Marvel will recast Kang, they’ll reduce the number of shows and films in production at a given time, they’ll get budgets under control and allow more time for VFX work, and they’ll refocus on the approaches and measures that worked so well in the past to determine which projects to greenlight and how to return to the sense of a big shared world the Avengers have to team up to save.

Luckily, with the X-Men and Fantastic Four reboots around the corner, Marvel has a couple of big teams with lots of potential for precisely the sort of storytelling Marvel does best at the blockbuster level. They could even simply move toward a post-Secret Wars setup that lets Fantastic Four, X-Men, and a handful of other existing popular franchises carry the Marvel brand forward for a while.

We will also probably see the temporary return of Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, and Scarlett Johansson reprise their popular MCU roles for Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and/or Avengers: Secret Wars.

And looking at the upcoming slate, it’s not hard to see there’s plenty of reason to feel confident Marvel will continue to enjoy success, even if it’s at a slightly moderated level due to the myriad factors we’ve discussed, including the idea that superhero genre films are settling into a more consistent long-term level of popularity and performance from now on.

The next four years brings Deadpool 3, Captain America: Brave New World, Thunderbolts, Blade, Fantastic Four, Avengers: The Kang Dynasty, and Avengers: Secret Wars, and at some point thereafter Armor Wars and the X-Men. Of these films, the two Avengers movies are likely to be blockbuster hits, as is Deadpool 3. Captain America: Brave New World is an established franchise, lacking the original series lead but with a continuing cast and brand that I think are enough to avoid any significant downturn in box office, even if we see some drop from the peak levels of the Infinity Saga.

Blade and Thunderbolts are the riskier properties here, but the former is a previously successful cinematic brand and the latter is a team-up movie including some recognizable characters and stars. Still, this is where we might see more underperformances. Fantastic Four could likewise either perform at a blockbuster levels, or might wind up in the $700 million range, but as a key property getting lots of attention and must-work oversight, I think it’ll avoid being a problem.

Armor Wars as an extension of the Iron Man movies — and possibly/probably coming after we see Robert Downey Jr. again in some Avengers action — should perform well, and X-Men is a known successful brand getting an MCU reboot and polish as a big team franchise including younger cast members, so I think it’ll at least be capable of playing at the Guardians of the Galaxy level, if done right.

This isn’t a debacle, it’s not doomsday, and Marvel isn’t in disarray. The internal difficulties they’ve faced are frankly typical and easy to identify and solve, as much as everything else we’ve discussed here. The bottom line is this: we’ve seen Marvel Studios kick off with a big hit in Iron Man and an outright flop with The Incredible Hulk, after which Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor performed at okay levels but didn’t set the box office on fire by any stretch.

We got the original Avengers movie off the strength of Iron Man and Iron Man 2, and to really help put this into perspective I’ll point out the average per film box office of Phase One was $634 million. Phase Two’s per film average was $876 million.

Marvel worked hard to build what they created, and it’s a tremendous historic success full of ups and downs that so far have ultimately maintained an impressive level of successful across a large slate of films and series. To look at this history, this math, and think Marvel Studios is in deep trouble, struggling, or never really was very good to begin with, is unreasonable and contrary to the data and any serious considerations.

 While the press is sounding the alarm that Marvel Studios is in dire straights, the actual reality of the problem is far less severe than clickbait headlines would have you believe.  Read More