The MCU Is in Trouble. How Should Marvel Fix It?
I can honestly state that my friends are talking about the Marvel Cinematic Universe more this week than they have at any point since Avengers: Endgame.
Alas, their obsession isn’t a positive, as much of the country is currently debating what has gone wrong with the MCU.
Over the last week, I’ve read stories with headlines like:
- Marvel Studios Taking Stock of Strategy Amid ‘The Marvels’ Meltdown
- ‘The Marvels’ melts down at the box office, marking a new low for the MCU
- How Disney can save the Marvel Cinematic Universe
There was even an outlier from Forbes entitled Marvel Studio Woes Are Overstated.
I commend that journalist for bravely taking a stance that isn’t the least bit popular at the moment. I’m at least somewhat about to do the same.
The MCU is obviously in trouble. What can Marvel do to fix it?
Target a New Audience
When filmmakers have asked me for feedback on consumer behavior, I’ve always stressed one immutable fact.
Every generation changes, and a generation lasts about six years. That’s the time it takes someone to go through 7th through 12th grade.
Why does this matter? Nobody wants to like what their older sibling likes. They want their own thing.
Part of the maturation process involves placing a generational stamp on the zeitgeist.
You can trace 40 years of pop music to recognize the point. Eventually, Rap and R&B forced their way onto MTV, changing the musical landscape.
Afterward, people rebelled against the MTV era and hair bands with alternative and grunge. Overnight, people dropped the hairspray and chose not to shower.
Later, boy bands returned to prominence before new computer-focused music like electronica and EDM evolved into the sounds of tech-savvy generations.
In a way, the MCU caught a break because its build from Iron Man to The Avengers satisfied one generation of movie-goers.
Then, Marvel earned a second helping when it started again with the Thanos build, which concluded in 2019.
That’s two different generations who loved the MCU. Then, the pandemic came, and our tastes changed.
Meanwhile, the quarantine generation is looking around at the Marvel stories they’ve gotten. They’re understandably feeling shortchanged.
What Marvel needs to do is reboot a bit and get more in touch with the next generation of film lovers.
Conveniently, one of them is Iman Vellani, a Marvel superfan. She can and should become one of the MCU’s most powerful voices.
Her peers are the ones who have experienced a lifetime of the MCU. I’m not even joking. She was six when Iron Man came out.
This is Marvel’s target demographic for the next 30 years, and they need more persuasion.
Make Better Television Series
Okay, Marvel has already addressed this criticism. In recent weeks, Kevin Feige and his team admitted that they have been doing it wrong.
Television existed for a century before Marvel got involved. It was hubris on Feige’s behalf to believe that the Marvel system would work better.
Executives quickly learned that they weren’t playing the long game in creating limited-run series.
Even when those shows created a buzz, as happened with Moon Knight, the characters vanished without a trace from the MCU.
Sure, Marvel always intended to bring them back, but fans grow impatient more quickly today.
Marvel series need to run longer in-season and across seasons. Remember that Loki recently became the first MCU title to gain a second season!
I honestly don’t even understand how that’s possible. Ms. Marvel and Hawkeye should have filmed their second seasons already.
Neither one is even sure to occur at this point, which is maddening. Instead, Marvel appears to be building toward another joint movie of some sort.
Apparently, Marvel has seen the light, though. The studio has promised that it’ll accept television convention by making longer series that last multiple seasons.
We just witnessed with Loki how well this strategy works when executed perfectly.
So, let’s do it again with She-Hulk and Moon Knight and hopefully Wonder Man.
Do you know what the other benefit of longer seasons is? These characters don’t get stuck in limbo for as long because you can do crossovers!
Marvel worked against its own best interests with its television production strategy.
Ignore Some of the Criticism
This suggestion is hard to achieve because Disney must take ownership of every media cycle.
Otherwise, outside interests describe Disney, often in unflattering ways due to schadenfreude.
I’m blessed to know and have worked with many of the finest box office analysts. They’re also very funny people.
One of them recently quipped, “Okay, you pulled 23 straight magic tricks, but I didn’t like the 24th!”
There’s a lot of truth to that joke because of the track record the MCU has established. It is THE most successful franchise in Hollywood history.
Do you think the people running other studios aren’t bursting with jealousy over what Marvel has accomplished?
Every long-standing member of the film industry has suffered innumerable failures. Before the pandemic, Marvel really hadn’t.
The “worst” MCU title in terms of box office is the one the studio doesn’t even acknowledge: The Incredible Hulk. It earned $135 million.
Do you know what everyone calls a movie that claims $135 million in domestic box office? A blockbuster.
While The Marvels will likely fall short of that total, it would still be one of only four MCU titles to finish with less than $180 million in domestic box office.
At absolute worst, Marvel has a success rate of 87 percent. Realistically, it’s probably 94 percent. So, there’s gonna be some envy involved.
Marvel should listen to all the criticisms but dismiss the ones that come across as petty and vindictive rather than helpful.
A Focus on Hits
Sometimes, less is more. In the case of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige has accepted this fact.
After scheduling 2020-2023 to include maximum Marvel, Feige has backed away from this stance.
In 2024, Marvel will release only one film, Deadpool 3, as opposed to the three we had in 2023, three in 2022, and four in 2021.
Yes, after opening ten films in three years, Marvel will drop to a single title in 2024.
Let’s just say that a lot is riding on Deadpool 3.
I fervently agree with this approach, though. Marvel’s other options for 2024 came down to a clearly unrefined Captain America: Brave New World and a rushed Blade production.
Neither of those options would have done anything other than providing affirmation to the critics of Marvel that the studio has lost its way.
Conversely, everyone loves Ryan Reynolds and Hugh Jackman, especially when they’re playing Deadpool and Wolverine.
Combined with a marketing strategy that connects the dots from Fox’s 2000 film, X-Men, to the MCU, Deadpool 3 is poised to explode at the box office.
This film should become Marvel’s first billion-dollar box office blockbuster since the pandemic.
For this same reason, Marvel has likely complicated bringing back some of the original Avengers.
The studio fully intended to cut costs by shaving payroll. That strategy has backfired completely, as audiences haven’t responded to the new characters as much.
None of us believes it’s a coincidence that Disney’s best-performing films since the pandemic are the sequels.
Among the new characters, only Shang-Chi has struck a chord. Meanwhile, Ant-Man and Captain Marvel have taken a step back.
In Case of Emergency, Call the Avengers
Finally, Marvel should get Chris Evans on the phone and ask whether he’s interested in a cameo in Brave New World.
Similarly, in the wake of Loki’s season finale, Marvel has opened the door for “dead” characters to return. They should.
Yes, I’m talking about Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man.
Also, while Marvel’s ultimate boss, Bob Iger at Disney, just said the studio would focus on new characters rather than creating sequels, Thor should still return.
Disney spent more than a decade building its MCU. With everything else falling apart, Marvel should reunite the Avengers to ensure box office success.
I equate that decision to Disney recently confirming sequels to Toy Story and Frozen. If fans want more of these characters, give it to them!
When a customer tells you that they want to give you money, let them!
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