The box office is booming for all genres EXCEPT Marvel and DC films
Four weekends into March 2023, and the story is starting to seem familiar. A long-running film franchise recently released its latest installment, and instead of feeling tired or repetitive, the new chapter proved to be a genuine winner with audiences and critics, receiving some of the best reviews in its saga and, more importantly, the series’ biggest box office bow to date (at least when not adjusting for inflation).
This past weekend, that film was John Wick: Chapter 4, which debuted to an astounding $73.5 million, exceeding its tracking coming into the weekend by more than $10 million and smashing beyond the previous franchise high of $56.8 million set by John Wick: Chapter 3 in 2019. Pretty bad for a show that debuted in 2014 with only $14.4 million in its first weekend. But, we’ve been witnessing this occurrence for the past month.
Creed III, Scream VI, and now John Wick 4 have not only launched at the biggest figures in their respective franchises, but have also blown past the most optimistic tracking expectations by studios and analysts. On the surface, this appears to be as clear as gravity, with franchises still reigning supreme in terms of cinema attendance. Nevertheless, sandwiched between these three films—along with numerous other success stories from the first quarter of 2023—is one notable exception: a film that defies modern Hollywood orthodoxy about everything needing to be a franchise or, better yet, part of a shared cinematic universe. Shazam!, the cautionary story, is sandwiched between these releases. The Gods’ Wrath.
With all due respect to the actual quality of the DC sequel (some of us even thought it was pretty good), Shazam 2’s box office has been such a disaster that the aftermath is still being played out in public via the trades and their anonymous sources (and sometimes online via actors’ social media accounts). Given how much blame is being thrown around, this failure is no orphan. In an era when Scream VI can debut at $44.5 million, smashing the high end of industry estimates of about $38 million, the fact that Shazam 2 couldn’t even scrape the bottom floor of WB’s own expectations at $35 million (far below the first Shazam’s $53 million opening) is awful.
We’ve talked about the unique set of flaws that contributed to Shazam 2’s downfall, but it’s not the only one. In fact, if we widen the scope to the entire first fiscal quarter of 2023, superhero movies in general are struggling. In February, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania appeared to be another hit for Marvel Studios. Despite negative reviews that criticized the third Ant-Man film’s visual aesthetic (or lack thereof) and exhausting narrative pattern, the film opened to $106.1 million, about 30 percent higher than Ant-Man and the Wasp, which debuted to $75.8 million in 2018. Is this another victory for Disney?
Not so quickly. It turns out that critics weren’t the only ones who were either burned by or burned out on Marvel’s arsenal of tactics. While Ant-Man 3 had a great opening, it also fell like a stone, dropping an astounding 69.9 percent in North America. Its second weekend take of $31.9 million is nearly comparable to the film’s second weekend haul of $29 million in 2018. It is also the ninth MCU film to plummet more than 65 percent in its second weekend since 2021. (a dubious feat none of the pre-Phase 4 Marvel movies accomplished).