Crisis in the superhero cinema: Marvel and DC seek to repower the genre after saturation of premieres and decrease in income

There have been many who have predicted, with wicked clairvoyance, the decline of superhero movies for years. They are those who long for the days when the box office did not depend primarily on caped characters or messianic saviors of the earth and the universe.

At this time, those who view the triumph of superhero films with disdain assure that there are signs that confirm their predictions: the genre has entered a phase of exhaustion.

The truth is that the setback that has recently suffered, on the one hand, Marvel’s Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania and on the other, Shazam! The Fury of the Gods (Shazam! Fury of the Gods) from DC Studios, have sounded the alarms of the two main production houses.

The first film, after a promising US release, had a precipitous 70% drop in revenue in its second weekend, due to poor “word of mouth” promotion among the public. In the first 39 days of projection, it accumulated $470 million – a figure that has not allowed it to generate profits and barely covers the total costs of production and marketing.

The case of Shazam! it’s even more dramatic for DC. In the first 11 days of its run through theaters, it has accumulated $102.4 million globally. The film’s budget was $125 million, so it could already be described as one of the biggest genre failures.

Are these signs of impending wear and tear on superhero movies, or is it just a stumbling block that can be corrected in the future?
The answer is not so simple.

expanding universe

In 2019, the premiere of Avengers: Endgame, the epic conclusion to Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (UCM), marked the pinnacle of the genre, becoming for a while the highest-grossing film in history.

After more than a decade of success, the formula devised by producer Kevin Feige, head of Marvel Studios, seemed more incombustible than ever and Disney executives rubbed their hands at the promising future offered by their goose that laid golden eggs.

By owning the rights to a vast gallery of characters created in the last century -mainly from the 1960s with the rise of Marvel Comics- the possibilities seemed endless.

So in 2021 he opted to put all the meat on the grill. The ambitious Phase 4 project included eight series broadcast via streaming on Disney Plus and seven films. A significant volume of products compared to Phase 1 that started in 2008 with Iron Man and accumulated six tapes until 2012.

Phase 2 of the UCM, which ran from 2013 to 2015, also featured six films, while in Phase 3, which ran from 2016 to 2019, 11 films were released – with three being released per year.

The disappearance of the original formation of the Avengers -with the death of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and the retirement of the first Captain America (Chris Evans)- inevitably led to the emergence of a new lineup with more superheroes. Many more.

It was a risky bet. Mainly because it openly challenged the saturation capacity of the viewers. There was confidence, there is no doubt. But it was necessary to experiment, innovate and not repeat the same recipes so as not to get bored.
However, covering too much was the beginning of the crisis.

Uneven streaming quality

Phase 4 started on the right foot, and at the right time. The first series was WandaVision, released in January 2021, at the height of the Covid pandemic, when people demanded more and more home entertainment. The innovative proposal – which emulated the format of the classic sitcoms on the small screen – was well received.

The problems came later. Falcon and the Winter Soldier (The Falcon and The Winter Soldier), divided opinions and was questioned for its irregular pace and less inspired proposal. At this point, the confidence and expectations of the fans were maintained.
With Loki, released in the middle of 2021, Marvel came back again, making it clear that the theme of the Multiverse would be the backbone of what we would see in the coming years.

The animated series What If…?, despite some excellent episodes, suffered from a certain disconnection, without a clear direction as to where the new avalanche of products was going.

Hawkeye, released in November 2021, featured a new character, Kate Bishop, the charismatic new archer played by Hailee Steinfeld. From here, the series began to demand more and more patience from the viewers.

Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk: Defender of Heroes (She-Hulk: Attorney at Law), all released in 2022, had uneven quality, especially the latter, which was questioned for its CGI flaws and abuse of humor. easy.

Movies with ups and downs

As for the films released between July 2021 and November 2022, the situation was not very different. In terms of the box office, Black Widow (the farewell to the previous Black Widow, Natasha Romanov), was the MCU’s first blunder. The simultaneous release in theaters and the Disney Plus platform hurt its income.

Although Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings fared better, the same was not true of Eternals, which garnered a less than lukewarm reception from the public.

The high point of this Phase turned out to be Spiderman: No Way Home (Spiderman: No Way Home, 2021), which broke the lethargy in which movie theaters remained due to Covid and led the general public to meet again in the darkness in front of the big screen. The greatest merit of the film was to appeal to nostalgia -and less to interest in what would be the future of the UCM-, bringing together the three actors who for more than two decades played the role of the arachnid hero, achieving a record collection of $1 thousand 921 million.

Reviews for the last three films of this Phase were mixed and box office results were mixed. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness) and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever proved that a captive audience existed.
But with Thor: Love and Thunder (Thor: Love and Thunder), the situation was once again disappointing. Although it cannot be described as a box office failure -it had a collection of $760.9 million with a budget of $250-, it was a deterioration in relation to the balance between adventure and humor achieved in Thor: Ragnarok in 2017. In this case, the work of the Director Taika Waititi stripped the character of his epicness to turn him into a parody worthy of Saturday Night Live.

The flood of shows and movies ended up taking its toll.

Since last year, people began to talk about the low quality of the visual effects. The saturation of premieres would have caused the specialists hired to make the CGI to work under pressure to meet the tight schedules, according to versions that circulated in the media.

And despite specific findings and sound casting decisions -such as the choice of Iman Vellani, to play Kamala Kahn in Ms Marvel-, the loss of interest was evident, something dangerous considering the number of products that were being made. queue to be released – at least six more tapes in Phase 5 three for Phase 6 and 15 more series approved or in the preparation phase.

All this led Kevin Feige to announce a change in strategy in February, which implied a reduction of projects for Phases 5 and 6 in order to avoid saturation.
“The pace at which we are presenting the Disney Plus shows will change so that each one can have the opportunity to shine,” Feige said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, pointing out that there will be fewer productions per year.

studios in trouble

But the headaches did not end there.

To all of the above is added the recent crisis that Marvel is going through after the surprise dismissal of Victoria Alonso, president of physical production, post-production, visual effects and animation.

Until March 21, the Argentine executive became known as the most powerful woman in Hollywood, after 17 years of working in the studio.

The versions about the cause of his departure have been various, including the alleged responsibility for labor exploitation against special effects employees or his collaboration in the production and promotion of the film Argentina, 1985. These versions were denied by Alonso’s lawyer, Patty Glaser, who stated that the dismissal was caused by Disney’s lukewarm position in the campaign to defend the LGTBQ + community.

“Victoria, a gay Latina who had the courage to criticize Disney, was silenced. (Alonso) was fired when she refused to do something that she believed was reprehensible. Disney and Marvel made a really bad decision that will have serious consequences,” Glaser said, hinting at a possible lawsuit against the company.

Added to this is the recent arrest of actor Jonathan Majors on charges of assault, harassment and attempts to strangle his partner. Majors is responsible for giving a face to the new MCU villain, Kang the Conqueror, and has already appeared in the Loki series and Quantumania.

These kinds of crises are new to Marvel, but they’ve been the bread and butter at DC Studios, the closest competition.

Since the premiere of Man of Steel (Man of Steel, 2013), the first installment of the DC Extended Universe, the problems, scandals and accusations have not ceased, leading executives, directors and fans to a true ordeal.

The zenith was the episode that led to remake part of the Justice League (Justice League, 2017) originally directed by Zack Snyder. The unfortunate idea of ​​the studio executives to “marvellize” the tape, after a personal tragedy moved Snyder away from the post-production phase – putting Joss Whedon in his place -, caused one of the most commented episodes in the industry. .

Following an insistent campaign on social media and fan media, Snyder’s original and extended vision managed to be released in 2021, to excellent critical reception.

Then, a rearrangement of management positions led to James Gunn and Peter Safran being placed at the head of DC Studios and with them the announcement of a new plan to build a more cohesive universe, which includes films -to date five have been announced -, series, comics and videogames. For now, the first step in this new direction will be the premiere of The Flash on June 16.

The long-awaited renaissance of DC is a mirror where Marvel can look at itself, after all, its problems are not so serious for now. Since the start of the pandemic, of the 20 best weekend releases, 11 are superhero films and nine of them are from Marvel.
Quality instead of quantity and consistency in decisions seems like the first step.

Talking about the end of the superhero genre is undoubtedly hasty, and it has been shown that fans can always respond to well-crafted products, where the heart and soul of comics prevails.

Caracas / Rodolfo Baptista

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