Is this the end of Marvel? Analyzing the year 2023 at the cinemas

Although the film industry hasn’t fully returned to its pre-pandemic state, the year 2023 marked another step in the right direction. Ticket sales revenue increased compared to the previous year, but they are still far from the record-breaking results of 2019. Additionally, Hollywood faced an internal crisis last year, triggering the largest strikes by screenwriters and actors in a long time. This had a significant impact on film production and the box office. The movie industry will continue to feel these consequences in the upcoming years. But let’s take it step by step…

Better Than Last Year

In 2023, ticket sales revenue in American cinemas surpassed the $9 billion mark. This is more than double the result recorded in 2021 ($4.33 billion) and nearly 25% higher than that of 2022 ($7.32 billion). However, there’s still a long way to reach the record of 2019 ($11.4 billion). Even though Hollywood is on the path to recovery after the pandemic downturn, it might take a few more years for better results. Predictions for the new year aren’t optimistic. Deadline Hollywood, citing market analysts, indicates that compared to the previous year, the overall revenue of American cinemas from ticket sales in 2024 is expected to decrease by a billion dollars. The weakened offer from Hollywood studios (in terms of potential blockbusters and the overall number of new titles) is the main reason for such a situation. On the other hand, these strikes ultimately led to the postponement of the release of the second part of “Dune” from November 2023 to March of this year. Denis Villeneuve’s latest film might turn out to be one of the biggest hits in the coming months and perform significantly better than its predecessor, which, during pandemic restrictions and the hybrid distribution of Warner Bros. films in America, earned just over $400 million worldwide.

Hollywood Strikes

It’s challenging to determine conclusively how much the strikes by screenwriters (May-September) and actors (July-October) last year affected the American and global box office. The period of actors’ strike was particularly challenging, as they couldn’t promote their performances during that time, which is especially significant for high-budget films relying on star-studded casts. Thus, besides the second part of “Dune,” among the titles whose premiere was moved from the previous year to this one are “Challengers,” where Zendaya also appears, and “Ghostbusters: Empire of Ice.” Consequently, in the already somewhat sparsely populated autumn-winter premiere calendar, more gaps appeared. Unexpected support for cinemas came from Taylor Swift, as the singer broke records in October with her concert film “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour.” With revenues around $180 million from American cinemas (and over $250 million worldwide), it’s not only the second most profitable premiere of the fourth quarter in America but also the most profitable concert film in the history of American (and global) cinemas.

Mickey Mouse in Trouble

However, the Hollywood strikes had a much larger impact on film production, which was practically halted from July to November. This, in turn, led to the postponement of premieres for many films (not only in the new year but also in the following years). Many of these are Disney studio productions, which in 2024 will release only seven new titles, including four from 20th Century Studios, formerly Fox. Is this part of Bob Iger’s plan, who some time ago announced that Disney, instead of focusing on quantity, would prioritize quality again? The past year wasn’t the best for this studio. Even though it started quite well (“Avatar: The Water Essence” earned a significant portion of its over $2.3 billion global revenue at the beginning of 2023), it ultimately had many financial and artistic disappointments. “Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania” performed quite well during its opening weekend (over $100 million in America), but it quickly lost viewership worldwide and couldn’t even earn $500 million globally. Consequently, it registered the worst performance among all Ant-Man films. A few months later, the fifth installment of Indiana Jones’ adventures performed terribly, earning only $384 million worldwide with a budget of around $300 million. In American cinemas, this film lost to the low-budget “Sound of Freedom” released around the same time, which eventually generated nearly $185 million.

Disney didn’t have to wait long for another failure. At the turn of July and August, the $150 million-budgeted “Haunted Mansion” performed very poorly. The global revenue for this film stalled at $117 million. However, the rotten cherry on top of last year’s financial setbacks for the studio turned out to be “Marvels”. It’s the first film in the history of Marvel Studios that didn’t surpass the $100 million mark in American cinemas. With an estimated budget of $275 million, the movie only earned $205 million worldwide.

Twilight of Superheroes in Cinema?

The first “real” box office failure for Marvel had to happen eventually. While some argue it’s due to brand dilution and audience division caused by oversaturation of series created for Disney+, as well as a crisis in quality at Kevin Feige’s studio, there are also voices speaking of fatigue from superhero movies. Over the last few years, these movies practically dominated mainstream cinema. The fatigue might also be evident from the results of last year’s films belonging to the DCEU, although the announcement of new plans for DC comics adaptations under James Gunn’s leadership could have also harmed. This practically meant the end of the universe initiated in 2013 by Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel” and contributed to a decreased interest in the remaining titles. Consequently, “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” earned only $134 million worldwide, “The Flash” – $270 million, and “Blue Beetle” – $129 million. Currently, “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” is striving for the best final result, with just over $250 million in its global account after the second weekend. It’s estimated to earn a maximum of $450 million in the final tally. This result will be significantly weaker than the first installment, which generated over $1.15 billion globally between 2018 and 2019. Interestingly, such a substantial decrease in revenue compared to its predecessor is a shared characteristic of both the second “Aquaman” and “Marvels” (in 2019, “Captain Marvel” had global revenues of $1.13 billion). However, successes were also celebrated in the superhero cinema last year. “Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3” with global revenues of almost $850 million is the fourth highest-grossing film of the year. Meanwhile, “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” earned $690 million worldwide, ranking sixth in the yearly standings.

Let’s Play this Film

Despite the financial disappointments of many high-budget superhero films, Hollywood performed very well last year. Viewers opted for other well-known brands. The first mega-hit of 2023 was the “Super Mario Bros. Film,” which earned over $1.36 billion worldwide. Currently, it ranks as the seventeenth-best result of all time and the third-best among animated films (excluding 2019’s “The Lion King”). This animation is also the first game-inspired production to exceed the billion-dollar mark. Alongside the success of this film (and the further letdowns of DC and Marvel comic adaptations), a question emerged whether film adaptations of video games could become another gold mine for Hollywood. Although attempts have been made to bring many games to the screen in the last twenty years, the results were rather poor. The first major successes were celebrated relatively recently with the premieres of two parts of Sonic’s adventures and “Uncharted,” which earned over $400 million at the beginning of 2022. Last year, besides “Super Mario Bros. Film,” “Gran Turismo” hit the cinema screens, performing reasonably well in its weight class ($121 million worldwide with a budget around $60 million). Another significant event turned out to be the late October release of the horror film based on the game series “Five Nights at Freddy’s” – its global revenues approached $300 million (including $137.3 million from America). In Poland, it was watched by around 800 thousand viewers, marking a record audience for a horror film since 1989.

The “Barbenheimer” Dominance

“Super Mario Bros. Film” and “Five Nights at Freddy’s” were surprise box office successes. However, the undisputed winner in this field was “Barbenheimer,” which made its mark in the annals of pop culture, cinema, and the box office. When it was revealed at the beginning of 2022 that Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” would hit the screens on July 21, the same day as Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer,” speculation began online about which of them would be the bigger hit. The contrast between the films and the announcement of intense competition in cinemas fueled buzz around both titles, and forecasts regarding the results grew with interest and pre-sale ticket results. Nevertheless, the opening results of both “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” exceeded expectations. The former debuted in America with $162 million, while the latter recorded an opening around $82.4 million. Many people opted for a combined viewing of both films.

Thanks to positive reviews and audience ratings, the strong interest in these films persisted for many weeks, diverting attention from other titles shown during that time. One of the casualties of “Barbenheimer” was “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning – Part One,” which hit theaters a week before the films by Gerwig and Nolan. The seventh installment of Ethan Hunt’s adventures earned $567.5 million worldwide, significantly less than “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” from 2018 ($791.7 million). Meanwhile, “Barbie” generated a final tally of $1.44 billion, making it the highest-grossing among all last year’s premieres and the fourteenth best result in the history of global cinemas. “Oppenheimer” eventually earned over $950 million and stands as the second highest-grossing film of all time in the “R” rating category (after 2019’s “Joker”).

Although precise data regarding ticket sales revenue worldwide is not yet known, it can be assumed they will be higher than the previous year. This is largely thanks to the Chinese market, from which seven out of the thirty highest-grossing films globally last year originated. It’s worth noting that since the beginning of the pandemic, the significance of Hollywood films in China has significantly diminished, and in 2023, the biggest hit there was “Fast & Furious 10” with earnings of $140 million. There’s little indication that this will change anytime soon. The beginning of 2024 will be relatively quiet for Hollywood and global cinemas in general. January and February lack strong novelties. There’s also no billion-dollar-generating premiere during the Christmas-New Year period. In the first months of last year, “Avatar: The Water Essence” sold well, and two years ago, it was “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” This year, we have “Wonka,” which will ultimately earn around $600 million worldwide. However, in March, the situation is expected to normalize again, serving as further evidence that the film industry, despite everything, is doing well and remains a very important, even indispensable, part of the entertainment industry.

The author is a co-creator of the Box-Office blog, Dizzying Box Office.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You might also like