Marvel Studios and the Curse of High Expectations

Now, reasonable people can certainly debate the artistic and narrative merits of Doctor Strange 2, as well as whether Sam Raimi’s directorial style fits the Marvel Cinematic Universe and if the film moves the MCU forward as a whole.

And to be sure, the film’s B+ rating on CinemaScore (only the third Marvel film to receive that, with all other MCU movies earning an A or A+) and heartstopping 67 percent box office drop in its second weekend are signs that this film isn’t going to be as universally loved as, say, Captain America: Civil War or Spider-Man: No Way Home. It also follows three previous MCU movies—Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and Eternals—that didn’t exactly blow the doors off theaters.

But our guess is that Marvel is going to be okay and that Feige isn’t frantically sending tractor trailers full of money to the front yards of Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans just yet. If anything, Marvel is now the victim of incredibly high expectations, both on the creative and financial fronts, and anything not meeting those standards is somehow deemed a calamity, which is admittedly not a healthy thing.

The Billion Dollar Box Office Snare

There’s no question that Marvel Studios and the MCU have had in their first decade a box office run unprecedented in the history of Hollywood. While including the Spider-Man films co-produced with Sony Pictures, the MCU has had 28 straight movies debut at number one at the box office over the course of 14 years. All but six have earned more than $500 million worldwide at the box office, while 10 of those films are members of the $1 billion club.

Stop a minute: we said 10 MCU movies have made a billion or more at the box office, right? Those include all four Avengers movies, two of the Spider-Man outings, Captain America: Civil War (which is kind of an Avengers movie, really), Black Panther, Iron Man 3, and Captain Marvel.

There are specific reasons why all 10 of those movies made billions of dollars. The Avengers films, especially the last two, teamed everyone from the other movies and, again in the case of the last two, brought a massive narrative arc to a close. Spider-Man, always Marvel’s most popular character, got the MCU reboot fans had been waiting for. Black Panther and Captain Marvel represented cultural game-changers for representation in the MCU and Hollywood blockbusters at-large.


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