Film Discussion

US Box Office Report: 10/11/23 – 12/11/23

The Marvels goes higher, further, faster in the worst way; and, nope, this is the only Box Office News.

Not gonna mince words, The Marvels’ opening weekend is catastrophic.  Whilst it may be the #1 movie in America, that is entirely by default.  $47 million is what I’d normally be saying is the opening day haul of a Marvel Cinematic Universe entry.  With The Marvels, that’s the entire weekend take.  $47 million.  The lowest opening weekend of any MCU film ever, a title previously held by The Incredible Hulk back in 2008 when the second entry in the franchise scored $55.4 million.

Overseas frankly isn’t much better with an International total currently at $63.3 million from 51 territories, nowhere near enough to make up for the shortfall domestically.  And whilst the schedule is relatively chill until late December (yay strike), the chances of general audience sentiment saving The Marvels with Elemental-level legs were swiftly cut to shreds when the Cinemascore of “B” – tied with Eternals and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania for the lowest of the franchise – came in.  This is all worse or equal to what The Flash scored back in June; a movie which would plummet 72% in its sophomore weekend, barely cross $100 mil domestic, and come nowhere near close to recouping its budget worldwide.

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Unsurprisingly, it’s getting quite impossible to find any decent discourse as to how this came to be; since the worst people in the world are celebrating like this validates their miserable viewpoints, the industry outlets are getting their mileage out of another twenty “THE MCU IS DOOOOOOOMED!!!” think pieces, fans are on the defensive, and sentiment around this movie has become just irrevocably toxic.  Here at Set The Tape’s Box Office Report, we try to be the adults in the room who can autopsy things with some balance/objectivity in between snark.  I also just personally find it way more interesting nowadays to examine the why earnestly, rather than joining the queue for additional bootings to a corpse.  So, with that in mind, I think there are a couple of genuine reasons as to why The Marvels is technically a bigger bomb than even Morbius.

(And before anybody starts, I did actually extend this same grace for The Flash when it came out, so take your rabid fanboyism and shove it.)


1] The actors’ strike

Arguably, this has been the real killer.  You’ll note that after the SAG-AFTRA strike kicked off back in mid-July, a week or so before Barbenheimer which every single outlet banked their press coverage for it in the month prior, we’ve only seen two major releases with budgets in the nine-figures: Blue Beetle ($109 mil) and Killers of the Flower Moon ($200 mil).  Both of those did not do very well and both were movies whose public perception and awareness would’ve greatly benefitted from getting a full-on press tour where their stars toured the various interview circuits, did some carpool karaoke, played with some puppies, ate some spicy wings, etc.  Turns out that an actors’ job doesn’t end when filming wraps.  Almost like they are significantly more valuable to the moviemaking process than studios were willing to admit and so probably should’ve gotten everything they demanded at the start of the strike, saving everyone involved several months and several billion dollars’ worth of time and pain.

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There is a reason why marketing spends for tentpole movies oftentimes equal the production budgets of said movies; they really do help and really are needed for every film.  In the case of The Marvels, whose central appeal is watching three supernaturally charming movie stars bounce off of each other in a fun low-stakes caper, not being able to send your actors out on any press tour until literally the night of release – when the SAG-AFTRA/AMPAS deal was struck; congrats to the actor’s union on that, btw – is tantamount to losing multiple limbs on the way to the starting blocks at an Olympic final yet still trying to run the race anyway.

Because without having your actors available to aid with promotion, all your studio has left to go on are trailers (which can often be outright bad), the director (whom most of the general public don’t care about), reviews/nebulous buzz (difficult to quantify on the amount of needle-moving both actually provide but can control the narrative), and brand loyalty (we’ll get to that).  None of those are very or as effective, to put it bluntly.  No coincidence that the only two genuine Hits we’ve had since Barbenheimer were linked to bulletproof brands who didn’t need the additional awareness leg-up; Five Nights at Freddy’s (and even that’s been sinking post-opening), and TAYLOR SWIFT | THE ERAS TOUR.

The other reasons listed here for The Marvels’ calamitous opening are important, don’t get me wrong, but I really do think they could’ve been mitigated substantially if an actual proper marketing campaign with its mega-watt Movie Star leads front-and-centre were able to take place.  Relatedly…


2] Disney/Marvel arguably pulled the plug on this one during the rollout.

As much as the biggest movie studio in the world can “pull the plug” on something which cost $275 million before subsidies and was releasing at the start of the holiday movie season, anyway.  Much the same as Warner Bros. treated Blue Beetle once the strike got underway, you can argue that Marvel didn’t exactly try very hard in raising awareness for The Marvels in the weeks leading up to release.  The most notable bit of marketing they did was an eight-hour cat café live-stream the week before, and throwing director Nia DaCosta to the wolves on interview circuits meant to act as clean-up for dirtsheet pieces of somewhat-dubious quality.

At almost no point in the run-up to this weekend did Marvel Studios put together a concerted effort to decently market their semi-titular movie, nor to fight back against the negative/apathetic narratives surrounding the film and MCU brand right now.  Again, this all was exacerbated by the strike, but it’s not like Marvel of all people couldn’t have put together some gameplan if they wanted to.  Christ, Warner Bros. at least tried that hysterical borderline astro-turf “ONE OF THE GREATEST SUPERHERO MOVIES EVER!” campaign (that everyone saw through) for The Flash to counteract not being able to send Ezra Miller out on tour!  Marvel pretty much threw their hands up in defeat with this one.

(Before I move on: just feel like mentioning that I remember the entire Marvel apparatus mobilising like crazy in defence of Chris Pratt when those semi-jokey “Worst Chris” memes were going around.  Meanwhile, we’re on year four of the viciously misogynistic hate campaign against Brie Larson and fools are spreading disparaging misinformation around DaCosta, yet the machine hasn’t made so much as a peep [aside from Samuel L. Jackson].  Find it interesting, is all.)


3] Marvel have diluted their brand post-Endgame.

Those of you who read my prior autopsy on the great failure week of June 16th will note that this is a condensing of Points 1 & 2 from there.  I still adamantly do not believe that there is superhero movie fatigue just yet; Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and Marvel’s own Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 3 are the third- and fourth-biggest films of 2023 in the US (sixth and fourth worldwide).  But I do believe that there is AVERAGE to BAD superhero movie fatigue.  People aren’t going to go out of their way to see a movie nowadays just because it’s part of some nebulously-connected shared universe or what have you.  The sense of obligation has gone because, hey, a lot of these movies are just fine or outright bad, there are lots of them, and times are tight with a cost-of-living crisis going on.

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Rather than contracting in size post-Endgame – like I EXPLICITLY TOLD THEM TO DO AT THE TIME; Y’ALL SHOULD START PUTTING RESPECT ON MY NAME – Marvel opted to continue expanding with “greater” stakes (the quotation marks are intentional), more movies, and way more TV series with budgets to match.  (Quick side-note that ballooned budgets are just as much an unavoidable side-effect of COVID precautions and insurance, and have been affecting every single blockbuster made since the pandemic kicked off.)  If you’re going to ramp up the amount of content made in a particular niche, then you risk burning an audience out if they’re not all bangers all the time.  And Marvel’s post-Endgame releases have… not been that.  There’s been some good stuff, some even great (like Guardians and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever), but enough to justify 10 movies and 10 seasons of television in three years?  Instead, most of them have just been alright or heavily-flawed; Shang-Chi, Ms. Marvel, Eternals, Hawkeye, take your bow.  And that’s before you get into the outright debacles like Quantumania and Secret Invasion, which also happened to be pitched as the very public introduction to Phase 5 so their failures clanged much harder.


It’s not as bad as DC – a brand torched so thoroughly over such a long time that even their outright good films had no hope of financial success – but Marvel are experiencing something similar.  The works are so frequent, often on Disney+ within two months of cinema release (which does not help), and the quality of those works are so variable that the once-bulletproof brand has lost its shine.  For some, keeping up really does now feel like homework, especially since the franchise took forever to pull the trigger on having TV characters crossover to the movies, now that the goodwill has been expended.  Even during their gold-plated Phase 3 run, more than a few of those releases were middling on quality but riding high on the Endgame hype that people still felt obligated to see them just in case, so they could afford a slight miss.

Like, say, the first Captain Marvel which was… fine.  Hell, one of The Marvels’ lead stars didn’t even rate it that highly!  But it still made a billion dollars because “fine” was good enough in the weeks before Endgame where the character would supposedly play a major role.  Meanwhile, Ms. Marvel remains the least-viewed MCU TV series – a combination of poor marketing, rolling out after three contentiously-received series on the trot, and it frankly being a total mess after the (excellent) pilot – and WandaVision, where Monica Rambeau got most of her development, finished its run 32 months ago.  Which brings us to…


4] The Marvels is the wrong movie for the moment.

MCU DISCOURSE does more 180s than a stunt driver on a Fast & Furious set.  I’ve been hearing about the brand being dead since the one-two punch of Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World in 2013.  It really does not take much to get people back on-side; MCU fans flip from “it’s over” to “WE SO BACK” with such frequency that they should be pelted with Daniel Bryan “FICKLE!” gifs for the rest of time.

If The Marvels was excellent, and I mean truly excellent with stunning critic reviews and audience word-of-mouth to counteract the toxic mix of apathy and gleeful failure-praying – Critical Drinker (one of the worst movie YouTubers and that’s really saying something) had a video about it being “The Biggest Flop in MCU History?” three months ago and, no, I won’t link you to it – then maybe some of these problems could’ve been mitigated.  Instead, critic reviews were split, audience word-of-mouth has been eh (soft daily drops as the weekend went on), and the movie itself aims to be little more than a goofy low-stakes fun popcorn flick (albeit one clearly baring the scars of post-production hell).  It’s not a great movie, it’s not a bad movie, it’s just a pretty alright one… at the worst time possible.

Right now, Marvel needed a home-run, in both quality and ambition.  The Marvels is neither, to a somewhat intentional degree, and so gets to suffer the onslaught of both the backlash, the chickens coming home to roost, and the elements completely out of its control.  It’s a scapegoat, a strawman, the wrong film at the worst time.

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Unlike with the DCEU, I don’t think the MCU is bit beyond hope.  Deadpool 3 is their next film and the only people who don’t think that’s going to stomp all over everything in sight like the Marvel of old are the ones who have shares in the anti-MCU market.  Loki’s finale has gotten strong responses from the fanbase.  Marvel have started pushing back their slates to try and counteract the oversaturation/underperformance problem – but in reality a by-product of the strikes coming to an end and having seen the writing on the wall of how much they were gonna cost The Marvels.  And it really is a shame that it had to happen to this movie, cos now the worst people are going to feel emboldened in their shittiness.  But if there’s a single overarching lesson to be found from all this… maybe the studios should’ve just paid up and not obsessed over owning actor likenesses for the rest of time instead of being stupid little assholes?

Normal service again next week folks.  Go watch Desert Bus for Hope which is midway through its run at publication time; the vibes are much better than this.  Here’s the tabled Full List.

US Box Office Results: Friday 10th November 2023 – Sunday 12th November 2023

1] The Marvels $47,000,000 NEW
2] Five Nights at Freddy’s $9,000,000 $127,205,300
3] TAYLOR SWIFT | THE ERAS TOUR $5,900,000 $172,526,901
4] Priscilla $4,792,678 $12,728,840
5] Killers of the Flower Moon $4,650,000 $59,937,384
6] The Holdovers $3,200,000 $4,274,260
7] Journey to Bethlehem $2,425,000 NEW
8] PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie $1,760,000 $64,564,318
9] Radical $1,752,000 $5,209,758
10] The Exorcist: Believer $1,150,000 $64,994,335

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