Assessing the Damage: Marvel Box Office in 2023
The Walt Disney Company, the corporate owner of Marvel Studios, just announced that it won’t update box office for The Marvels anymore.
Right after Disney said this, it reported box office for The Marvels for a weekday, but we should still generally take the company at its word.
Disney knows what everyone else knows. The Marvels has come to the end of an incredibly frustrating box office run.
Now, we can assess the damage of Marvel’s 2023 box office campaign. It’s…not gonna be pretty.
The Quantum Realm As a Box Office Metaphor
In February 2023, Marvel released Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, a film which explored the Quantum Realm.
We learned that Janet Van Dyne had encountered and accidentally befriended Kang, quite possibly the most dangerous villain in the multiverse.
With the benefit of hindsight, I can’t help but wonder whether we entered an alternate universe when we watched the film.
In this reality, Marvel Cinematic Universe titles apparently aren’t as successful as the ones from the reality we know.
I say this because we all remember what happened in 2019. During the year before the pandemic, Marvel ruled the box office.
The studio released Avengers: Endgame and Captain Marvel for Disney and Spider-Man: Far from Home for Sony.
All three films grossed more than $1 billion in the box office, with Endgame briefly claiming the crown as the biggest blockbuster in the history of cinema.
Disney hasn’t released a $1 billion Marvel film since then, while only one live-action Sony movie, Spider-Man: No Way Home, has managed the feat.
Marvel has entered some box office Quantum Realm wherein Kang is somehow deflating the box office totals.
About Quantumania’s Box Office
This practice started with Quantumania, a movie that may have earned money.
I say “may” because I’m honestly on the fence about this one. I’ve written about box office a lot over the years and developed my own calculations.
While others use more generic formulas to determine success/failure, I sometimes dig a little deeper, depending on the film.
In the case of Quantumania, I’m truly transfixed because it’s so close either way.
The movie earned $476 million worldwide against a production budget of $200 million.
Typically, I’d describe such a film as needing $500 million to break even, $600 million if two-thirds of its revenue came from international receipts.
Well, box office has worked differently since the pandemic. International marketplaces have yet to recover from those catastrophic events.
So, the box office splits I spent 20 years honing have changed dramatically…and almost overnight.
In the case of Quantumania, it did something exceedingly rare for a Marvel film during the 21st century. It earned 45 percent of its box office domestically.
Generally speaking, releasing a film internationally comes with more negotiating constraints and hidden expenses.
Studios must pay for foreign language translations, market specifically to single countries, and pay tariffs that can be shockingly high.
What I’m mentioning is just the tip of the iceberg, too. The greasing of the wheels internationally isn’t for the faint of heart or morally rigid, if you catch my drift.
For these reasons, I think this film has technically earned back its production budget during its theatrical release.
The difference here is razor-thin and doesn’t account for marketing expenses, but it’s basically a wash.
However, Marvel DOES NOT release movies without expecting them to be financial draws. Before 2023, it was borderline unprecedented.
The One Surefire Hit
We can simplify the conversation for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. The final James Gunn film with Marvel made a boatload of money.
This title claimed the kind of box office performance we’ve come to expect from Marvel.
The third Guardians film earned $846 million worldwide, with $359 million coming from its domestic box office.
As a third film in a franchise, Guardians cost more to produce, as the talent expected pay raises for their tremendous work.
Disney reportedly spent $250 million on the project. Even if we assumed a three-for-one ratio on its box office, it’d still be a massive winner.
After a deep dive, I’ve settled on a profit of around $225 million.
Last year, Deadline calculated Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness with a net of $284 million.
That film earned about $51 million more domestically and another $68 million worldwide. So, we’re probably in the same ballpark with our calls.
Summarizing our work thus far, Marvel has earned a very modest sum from Quantumania and $225 million from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.
But here’s where the story takes a sharp turn, maybe even a u-turn…
The Marvels Proves Ill-Named
I’ll start by saying that I liked The Marvels. In fact, I think it’s several exponents superior to Quantumania.
Ergo, everything I’m about to say bums me out. This film deserved a better fate.
Alas, the fate it received is savage and all but final.
The Marvels, which we can definitively state cost Disney $219.8 million to produce, has earned $197.7 million worldwide.
No, I didn’t say domestically. It’ll creep past $200 million worldwide this week – I hope – but that’s about the end of its theatrical run.
And you don’t need to ace your SATs to know which number is bigger between $219.8 million and $197.7 million.
Even if its box office matches its production budget, The Marvels will still qualify as an unmitigated disaster for Disney.
By my count, The Marvels only recently earned back half its production budget.
The film will likely finish with a loss of $100 million or more.
In the absolute best-case scenario, it takes an $80 million hit, but I’m not even that optimistic.
Instead, I view the title as costing Disney about $110 million or half its financial outlay. Yes, that’s disastrous.
Notably, even allowing for that misstep, the three MCU titles released in 2023 still made money.
That’s the absolute sunniest perspective you could take from Disney’s frustrating 2023 campaign.
Again, Marvel doesn’t make movies to earn an average of $35 million each, though. It expects Multiverse of Madness-level numbers.
Disney didn’t get that once in 2023. I’ll credit Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 for doing plenty well enough, but the other two…well, you know.
The MCU had a terrible 2023, and now all hope for 2024 rests on the weight of Deadpool’s shoulders.
Somehow, I suspect the character will get a kick out of that.
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