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Marvel Taught Us That Movies Need to Be Events, but the MCU No Longer Qualifies

Box-office highlights of 2023 include the breakout successes of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” and disruptor titles like “Sound of Freedom” and “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour.” We’ve also seen the weakness of star-driven legacy franchises like “Mission: Impossible.” However, none may carry the same consequences as the stunning non-response to “The Marvels.”

With a $47 million domestic, $110 million worldwide opening (and a reported $220 million budget, before marketing costs), this MCU sequel is below any below-normal figure for this franchise. It’s the 17th-best opening of 2023. MCU titles regularly place in the top five of most years. It tied with two other MCU films with a lowest-ever B Cinemascore.

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There’s little hope for recovery even with Thanksgiving weekend ahead, making this the second of three MCU titles (after “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania”) to show a loss this year.

That’s bad news for Marvel, especially since its winning title was directed by current DC Film chief James Gunn (“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3”). For theaters, it’s horrific.

For the past decade, theaters could hold certain profitable truths to be self-evident: annoying pre-show advertising, popcorn, and a huge response to Marvel films. For crowd-drawing events, they led the way. Apart from Covid-disruption, MCU provided two to three titles annually, with an average domestic gross of $400 million. (Next year, after Disney revamped their schedule, will have only one, the third “Deadpool” release.) Event culture is still strong in theaters (see: initial response to “Five Nights at Freddy’s”), but not for Marvel.

FIVE NIGHTS AT FREDDY'S, Freddy Fazbear, 2023. © Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection
“Five Nights at Freddy’s”©Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection

Some context for the carnage: In 2019, “Captain Marvel” totaled $427 million domestic, with $153 million to open (with lower ticket prices). It even outgrossed Sony Marvel sequel “Spider-Man: Far from Home.” One oddity — the gender breakdown for “The Marvels” was 61-39 percent male, which is the standard breakdown for an MCU title. But for a female-centered movie, that’s just weird.

What’s going on? There’s a normal attrition of interest after an amazing run; characters less central to MCU, and of less interest to core viewers; negative media reaction (including mediocre to bad reviews), and a lack of actor promotions due to the SAG-AFTRA strike.

However, the biggest damage may be self-inflicted. Along with multiple movies each year, Disney distilled Marvel (as it did “Star Wars”) into many Disney+ offshoots. Credit “The Marvels” with some degree of originality and new characters, but at this point, there may be no other reaction available beyond confusion.

As a result, we have an $89 million weekend — a terrible number for this time of year. Last year, with “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” opening, the weekend totaled $210 million. It’s enough to create the first reduction in the year-to-date comparison. It now stands at 23 percent better, which still puts 2023 on track for $9.1 billion.

No other films grossed more than $10 million. At #2, “Freddy’s” did $9 million (-53 percent), with $127 million in over three weekends with parallel Peacock streaming. “Eras” came in third with $5.9 million (-57 percent), now over $172 million.

Following these are three awards-impact, older-audience titles. At #4, “Priscilla” (A24) added 1,002 screens to gross $4.8 million in 2,361 theaters for a total of $12.7 million in its third weekend. That should position the Sofia Coppola-directed biopic to reach $20 million (which was its budget). That’s above average these days for more specialized crossover titles.

Focus has taken a slower route with Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers,” now #6. It grossed $3.2 million in 778 theaters for about $4.3 million so far. It is expanding at a pace similar to last year’s “The Fabelmans” and “The Banshees of Inishern,” both of which had similar platform openings. The result here is much better than either of those films, suggesting very good audience response. With a jump to 1,000 screens this Friday and the Thanksgiving play after, this is also positioned to hit $20 million.

In between these is “Killers of the Flower Moon” (Paramount), with the Apple-produced Martin Scorsese film adding another $4.6 million, now at $60 million. It is sustaining a decent run despite its length and serious content.

Two other new releases made the Top 10, including a rare Saturday opening. The faith-based “Journey to Bethlehem” (Sony) from Affirm took seventh, with an unimpressive $2.4 million. “Tiger 3” (Yash Raj) from India, a sequel to the hit “Pathaan” from earlier this year, took eighth with $2.25 million in just two days and only 750 theaters.

Nicolas Cage in "Dream Scenario"
“Dream Scenario”A24

The weekend saw a standout limited opening, with “Dream Scenario” (A24) with Nicolas Cage grossing a promising $215,000 in six New York/Los Angeles theaters. It was aided by significant in-theater appearances, decent reviews, and originality (the black comedy centers on a biology professor realizing he is showing up in the dreams of millions of people). Of particular note: The two top theaters were in Brooklyn (Alamo) and Burbank (AMC). It’s a geographic progression that, until recently, would be unheard of. This will have a national expansion on November 22.

The Top 10

1. The Marvels (Disney) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic: 50; Est. budget: $220 million

$47,000,000 in 4,030 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $11,663; Cumulative: $47,000,000

2. Five Nights at Freddy’s (Universal) Week 3; Last weekend #1; also streaming on Peacock

$9,000,000 (-53%) in 3,694 (-95) theaters; PTA: $2,436; Cumulative: $127,205,000

3. Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour (Variance for AMC) Week 5; Last week #2

$5,900,000 (-57%) in 3,848 (-756) theaters; PTA: $2,072; Cumulative: $172,500,000

4. Priscilla (A24) Week 3; Last weekend #4

$4,793,000 (-5%) in 2,361 (+1,002) theaters; PTA: $2,030; Cumulative: $12,729,000

5. Killers of the Flower Moon (Paramount) Week 4; Last weekend #3

$4,650,000 (-32%) in 3,357 (-429) theaters; PTA: $1,385; Cumulative: $59,937,000

6. The Holdovers (Focus) Week 3; Last weekend #16

$3,200,000 (+463%) in 778 (+714) theaters; PTA: $4,113; Cumulative: $4,300,000

7. Journey to Bethlehem (Sony) NEW – Cinemascore: A-

$2,425,000 in 2,002 theaters; PTA: $1,211; Cumulative: $2,425,000

8. Tiger 2 (Yash Raj) NEW (opened Saturday) NEW – est. budget: $50 million

$2,250,000 in 750 theaters; PTA: $3,000; Cumulative: $2,250,000

9. PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie (Par) Week 7; Last weekend #8; also on PVOD

$1,760,000 (-13%) in 1,779 (-625) theaters; PTA: $; Cumulative: $64,564,000

10. Radical (Pantelion) Week 2; Last weekend #5

$1,752,000 (-34%) in 534 (+115) theaters; PTA: $3,281; Cumulative: $5,210,000

Other specialized titles

Films (limited, expansions of limited, as well as awards-oriented releases) are listed by week in release, starting with those opened this week; after the first three weeks, only films with grosses over $5,000 are listed. Metacritic scores and film festivals lists as listed.

Dream Scenario (A24) NEW – Metacritic: 72; Festivals include: Toronto 2023

$215,552 in 6 theaters; PTA: $35,925

It’s a Wonderful Knife (IFC) NEW – Metacritic: 60; Festivals include: Beyond 2023

$605,110 in 923 theaters; PTA: $656

What Happens Later (Bleecker Street) Week 2

$678,438 in 1,450 (-42) theaters; PTA: $467; Cumulative: $2,910,000

The Marsh King’s Daughter (Roadside Attractions) Week 2

$356,850 in 950 (-105) theaters; PTA: $377; Cumulative: $1,605,000

All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (A24) Week 2

$10,145 in 6 (+3) theaters; PTA: $; Cumulative: $28,439

The Persian Version (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 4

$44,860 in 120 (-360) theaters; Cumulative: $490,382

Anatomy of a Fall (Neon) Week 5

$469,890 in 583 (+143) theaters; Cumulative: $2,782,000

Dicks: The Musical (A24) Week 6

$14,670 in 22 (-80) theaters; Cumulative: $1,439,000

Stop Making Sense (A24) (reissue) Week 7

$32,017 in 26 (-6) theaters; Cumulative: $4,996,000(reissue only)

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