MCU’s annual earnings since 2008 and insights into recent flops like The Marvels

"There doesn’t seem to be that same allure anymore" Marvel films flop at box office

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) finds itself grappling with a series of setbacks as evidenced by the underwhelming performances of recent releases such as Eternals, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, and The Marvels. This downturn marks a stark contrast to the MCU’s seemingly unstoppable momentum following the monumental success of Avengers: Endgame in 2019.

The studio’s predicament is further compounded by the unexpected dismissal of Jonathan Majors, a prominent star slated to reprise his role as Kang the Conqueror in the upcoming blockbuster Avengers: The Kang Dynasty (tentatively named Avengers 5). Majors’ removal from the MCU comes on the heels of a legal verdict finding him guilty of assaulting his former girlfriend, Grace Jabbari. With the need to either recast the role or reconfigure future film plans, the studio faces an additional layer of uncertainty.

The decline, however, did not begin with Majors’ legal troubles earlier this year; the MCU has been on a downward trajectory since the culmination of the Infinity Saga with Avengers: Endgame. Despite a surge in film releases, the box office totals failed to reflect the earlier popularity that the superhero franchise enjoyed.

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A closer examination of the MCU’s box office history reveals a noticeable ascent from 2008, the inaugural year marked by Iron Man’s release, up until 2016. However, the trajectory took a sharp upward turn, reaching $2.5 billion in 2017, $4 billion in 2018, and a staggering $5.5 billion in 2019. This zenith was fueled by the success of Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, and Spider-Man: Far From Home.

The year 2020 witnessed a significant setback due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, leading to a pause in cinematic releases not only for Marvel but for most film studios worldwide. Post-pandemic, the MCU has struggled to regain its previous momentum, with each subsequent year witnessing diminishing box office totals. In fact, the decline has been substantial, with the box office total more than halving from $3.1 billion in 2019 to $1.5 billion in the most recent year. The Marvels, in particular, stands out as the MCU’s biggest flop to date, grossing only $199 million at the global box office.

Delving into the reasons behind this apparent “rot” within the MCU, it becomes apparent that the saturation of content might be a contributing factor. The initial allure of the big-budget approach, uniting diverse characters for individual stories culminating in epic team-ups, has lost some of its novelty. The emotional resonance built over phases with characters like Tony Stark, Steve Rodgers, and Thor has waned as the narrative complexity increased, introducing concepts like variants and Skrulls that challenge the audience’s ability to form lasting connections.

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The recent developments, including the unforeseen exit of Jonathan Majors, have added a layer of complexity to the MCU narrative. With the wheels seemingly coming off, the future of the franchise appears uncertain. While “Loki” Season 2 may offer a glimmer of hope, the overall sentiment suggests that the once-cohesive universe is facing a period of upheaval and uncertainty, necessitating a reevaluation of its approach and narrative direction.

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