Why did The Marvels flop?

Josh Tyler
Brie Larson in The Marvels

The Marvels has barely crossed $100 million after a historically low opening weekend for the MCU – but why has it flopped?

With a $47 million domestic opening weekend, the Brie Larson-led superhero movie The Marvels has secured its place in infamy within the MCU.

Below even the maligned 2008 The Incredible Hulk, The Marvels couldn’t crack $50 million domestically, leading many to call this latest outing one of the biggest busts of the year. But with its poor reception on release, lack of promotion from its main stars due to the recently-ended SAG-AFTRA strike, and claims of superhero fatigue, things were stacked against The Marvels.

But ultimately, what executives at Disney will be asking is: why did The Marvels flop? And spoiler alert, it’s not because the movie is bad.

Brie Larson in The Marvels

Overly critical scores sunk The Marvels

The Marvels debuted to one of the lowest critical ratings of an MCU movie ever, releasing to Rotten Tomatoes critical scores in the mid-50s before improving slightly over the weekend to 62%.

While it might be the case that these low critical scores were indicative of a low-quality movie, which compelled viewers to stay away, it’s actually an example of a larger meta trend when it comes to critics and the MCU.

In the post-Endgame landscape, critics have become far more critical of superhero movies, particularly MCU films, relative to general audiences.

Whereas in the first few phases of the MCU critics and audiences largely agreed about the quality of Marvel’s movies, in Phases 4 and 5, the gap between audience and critic perception of these projects has grown massively.

For instance, some of the most-maligned projects of the first three phases – Iron Man 2, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Thor: The Dark World – had fairly low Rotten Tomatoes critical ratings by MCU standards. However, those also coincided with some fairly low audience ratings as well.

MCU Rotten Tomatoes Phases 1-3

But when it comes to Phases 4 and 5’s worst MCU projects – Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Thor: Love & Thunder, Eternals, and The Marvels – the audience scores remain fairly stable while critic ratings declined massively.

The gap between audience perception and critic perception has grown to double-digits after Endgame, with movies that audiences enjoy just as much (or more) than the worst early MCU movies, but they are now getting critically panned.

MCU Rotten Tomatoes Phases 4-5

So why is it that, although audiences perceive these seven movies to be similar in terms of quality, the earlier movies earned so much more critical acclaim than later ones?

While it’s easy to say that audiences are simply more willing to accept lower-quality MCU movies, this wasn’t the case for Love & Thunder, Eternals, or Quantumania. Audiences seemed to enjoy those movies far less, but it was The Marvels that took the fall despite audiences preferring it.

Instead, it seems like growing angst around Marvel’s role in the state of the film industry as a whole, superhero fatigue when it comes to those who review the movies, and unrealistic expectations of individual MCU movies post-Endgame have depressed critical responses to movies that seem to be relatively similar in quality to earlier MCU movies.

Nick Fury in Secret Invasion Episode 6

An indictment on the state of the MCU

Having said that, it’s unquestionable that the perception is that the current state of the MCU is one of a franchise in decline.

Many of the negative reviews focused on the film’s overall impact on the MCU, the fact that it feels like a piece of a puzzle that seems to be losing its luster, rather than simply whether the movie itself is worth watching.

In part, this is a fair criticism as projects like She-Hulk and Quantumania faced big criticisms over their CGI, others like Thor: Love & Thunder were called too “jokey,” and the recent Secret Invasion was panned by critics and audiences alike (it’s currently the only MCU project to be below 50% in both audience and critic scores).

The fact that The Marvels followed so closely in the footsteps of Secret Invasion (both featured Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury and the Skrulls) certainly didn’t help audience confidence that the feature film would be a step up.

Many have pointed out that the oversaturation of MCU content has contributed to this negativity, both because quality has declined with MCU leadership being stretched thin and because it makes each new installment feel less impactful.

Marvel has already said that it intends to slow down the pace of its upcoming releases to ensure the high quality fans are accustomed to. They are currently scheduled for only one movie release in 2024 with Deadpool 3.

And while “superhero fatigue” is often bandied as a reason for the decline of the MCU and The Marvels’ bombing, it’s only one piece to the puzzle.

Samuel L. Jackson  as Nick Fury

The role of the strikes on The Marvels

The SAG-AFTRA strike is used as a crutch as to why the movie bombed, but it is also dismissed as being inconsequential.

Certainly, had the cast of The Marvels been able to promote the movie, it wouldn’t magically right the ship. However, it might have prevented The Marvels from being the MCU’s biggest box office flop.

While many scoff at the idea that Brie Larson on late night talk shows or Samuel L. Jackson on internet interviews would have improved The Marvels’ fortunes, it is important to recognize that this movie faced far different circumstances than other MCU installments.

First, this movie’s plot largely followed-up from Ms. Marvel, a Disney+ show that was well-received but not among the most-watched MCU shows.

Iman Vellani’s Kamala Khan was not well-known coming into the movie’s release by general audiences and the pre-release press tour would have been a good opportunity for many fans to meet her.

The fact that Vellani has been so widely praised for her performance in The Marvels only adds credence to this, along with the fact that Vellani is a well-known fan of the franchise as a whole. Her infectious attitude would have certainly drawn some interest and hype online.

Monica, Kamala, and Carol in The Marvels.

Second, since The Marvels was marketed as a team-up event, general audiences could have benefitted from seeing the chemistry of the three main leads (Vellani, Larson, and Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau) during a press tour.

Once again, this on-screen chemistry drew praise from critics and audiences, so losing out on that certainly hurt The Marvels in some way.

Third, we must acknowledge that The Marvels is at a unique disadvantage as one of the only female-led superhero properties and has been the target of backlash as a result.

Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel were both famously review-bombed in the lead-up to their release, and that seems to be the case for The Marvels as well, which has 20% of its scores on IMDb as 1-star.

While the press tour certainly wouldn’t counter that sentiment, without the stars out there, the negativity was allowed to grow unchecked.

Finally, the SAG-AFTRA strikes also had a negative impact on the perception of Disney (and, by extension, the MCU) as a whole.

Fan sentiment during the strike was firmly on the side of the actors and writers. Stories about comments by Disney CEO Bob Iger, as well as revelations about the company’s proposed use of AI and other labor practices, certainly soured fans against the company as a whole.

With the strikes only ending a week before The Marvels premiere, there’s no doubt that at least some of the general audience rejected the movie because of perception around Disney the corporation.

Ms. Marvel, Captain Marvel, and Monica Rambeau teaming up in The Marvels.

Is The Marvels flopping the end of the MCU?

While many out there are using The Marvels becoming such a massive flop as indicative that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is dead and buried, that’s most certainly not the case.

For one, a bad opening weekend doesn’t necessarily doom a movie, which can always gain steam over the following weeks like another Disney project, Elemental, did.

Although The Marvels is likely to end up as a flop, let’s not forget that this movie is not dealing with one of the MCU’s most beloved heroes or the comics’ most popular characters.

With heroes like Spider-Man and the Hulk still with movies to come to the MCU and the X-Men and Fantastic Four waiting in the wings, it’s unlikely that the Marvel machine will stop rolling, especially for one flop.

The Marvels flopping should be a wake-up call to Disney and Marvel that they can no longer bank on every release being a half-billion-dollar hit. That they need to re-invest their time and efforts into writing, effects, direction, and marketing.

However, for those thinking that this is the nadir of the biggest franchise on the planet, you might need to recalibrate your expectations.

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About The Author

Josh Tyler is Dexerto's US Editor, focused on TV and movies as well as all things gaming. Formerly of Fansided and Screen Rant. Tips welcome at josh.tyler@dexerto.com