Through the tumult across the movie business, from still-sluggish box office grosses to Netflix hitting its subscriber plateau, Marvel Studios remains Hollywood’s surest bet. Yet, if a new rumor about a slowdown of Marvel Cinematic Universe releases is true, it shows even Disney is still reeling after the pandemic shutdown.
Whether the report is accurate, rumors or an outright guess, the idea that Marvel might delay some future MCU projects isn’t out of the ordinary. Earlier this year, both Fantastic Four and Deadpool 3 were pushed back, and Blade suffered worse than a mere delay. Similarly, since Bob Iger returned to Disney, the industry peeked through the windows of the House of Mouse to see its cupboards are barer than people might think. Driving the problem is the necessity for studios to go all-in on streaming, especially during the lockdown, and nearly all other revenue streams just stopping cold. Nearly three years on, even the deep pockets of Disney can’t afford to keep pouring cash into streaming production. When it comes to box office success, Disney enjoys more than most. So, if it’s still not rebounding fast enough for it, the industry itself is in for a rough year or two, at least.
Even When Marvel Studios ‘Underperforms’ It Outdoes Most Other Franchises
The box office growth over the past 20 years was massive. From 2015-2019, the total domestic box office per year was more than $11 billion. In 2018 alone, Marvel Studios took home $4.02 billion worldwide, more than half of Disney’s $7.04 billion that year. In 2019, thanks not just to Marvel but Pixar and recently-acquired 20th Century Fox films, Disney’s box office take-home soared to over $11 billion globally. In 2022, however, Disney has yet to break the billion-dollar mark, with Top Gun: Maverick and Jurassic World Dominion the only films to do so.
Still, Marvel Studios movies grossed around $2.5 billion in 2022, a significant portion of Disney’s total take of just $3 billion. Kevin Feige is still Don Mickey’s top earner, so if Disney is scaling back on these productions, it means that the financial pressure post-pandemic lockdown is still very high. Still, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is holding strong ahead of Avatar: The Way of Water. The company likely didn’t expect the pandemic to last three years, and it also probably expected a faster rebound. At this rate, it will be many years before box offices reach the heights of the late 2010s.
So, while the financial crunch at Disney is even pinching Tony Stark’s pockets, the slowdown isn’t a punishment. In fact, with more MCU content hitting Disney+ in 2022 than theaters, the slowdown may simply mean more films and special presentations, with fewer series. It will also make a new Marvel film feel “special” again.
Pulling Back from Streaming Is a Smart Move for Disney
From the dawn of the so-called Streaming Wars, Netflix was always all-in on streaming. Yet, the only streamer to successfully challenge it in the race for subscribers is, possibly, Prime Video. However, especially during the lockdown, a direct-to-consumer platform helped to keep studios in the game when theaters were closed. Rather than licensing these series to Amazon or Netflix, Disney bet on itself. Yet, that’s an expensive wager, which takes time to pay off. Netflix took years to become a profitable content producer. Still, the bet didn’t pay high enough dividends to satisfy shareholders.
In fact, since the lockdown first lifted, Marvel Studios has created more projects for Disney+ than the big screen. The shows amount to double the production time for films, given the shows are double the length of the longest Marvel movies’ runtimes. This is a problem, especially since Marvel stories are still the most consistently successful box office draw. Disney can lean on Lucasfilm for streaming content; shows like Andor and Willow are perfect for the streamer. Yet, the one-project-per-month pace for the next two years would be difficult to keep up, even in a normal market.
Unlike Netflix, studios like Warner Bros. Discovery or even Amazon have other revenue streams to fall back on. Disney, however, seems to want to lessen its focus on direct-to-consumer and rebuild the box office revenue stream. Done right, the rising tide from Marvel Studios could lift all the studios’ boats.