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The decline of superheroes? 2023, year of crisis for Marvel and DC

“The pitcher goes so far to the fountain that in the end it breaks” is an old Spanish saying that Hollywood would do well to memorize. Because, over the years, the mainstream film industry has shown that its specialty is taking a trend and squeezing it until it loses all its appeal. Something that now applies to superhero cinema.

After spending just over a decade ruling the rankings (if we count the premiere of The Avengers in 2012 as ground zero of his supremacy), the genre of super-powered adventurers seems to have lost its grip on the public. Something of which this year has given us plenty of examples.

Between titles without success and box offices that move between the mediocre and the disastrous, both Marvel as D.C. They are facing, without exaggeration, the worst years in their history since they launched their assault on the big screen. What are the keys to this debacle? And what can studies do to alleviate its consequences?

Marvel: the exhaustion of a formula

The fact that the House of Ideas (and Kevin Feige) It has been experiencing a slow decline since the pandemic, which is no surprise. Yes ok Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange in the multiverse of madness and Thor: Love and Thunder kept their heads high between 2021 and 2022, all of those films featured characters we already knew before Avengers: Endgame (2019).

On the other hand, and beyond their quality as films, neither Eternals, neither Shang-Chi and the legend of the Ten Rings neither Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (the latter, resentful of the death of Chadwick Boseman) They achieved excessive applause. The results of Black Widow, a film that arrived in full confinement and with a Scarlett Johansson Already graduated from the MCU, they deserve separate study.

With 2023, the definitive signs have arrived that Marvel needs to rethink its strategy. If the figures of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania were disappointing (about 476 million dollars… and the biggest drop after the first weekend in the history of the studio), The Marvels It has earned headlines for being the Marvel movie with the worst financial results.

The meeting of Brie Larson, Iman Vellani and Teyonah Paris has ended its first days at the box office with 110.3 million dollars, the worst premiere in the history of the MCU. A balance that is light years ahead of expectations, and that leaves the film far from the 400 or 500 million dollars necessary to ensure its profitability.

The good figures of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (845.6 million) and Spider-Man: Crossing the Multiverse (690.5 million) They could compensate for this setback. It is not in vain that we talk about films that have been very well received by both critics and the public.

But, looked at coldly, these hopes turn out to be rather deceptive. In the case of Guardians…, This is the official farewell to the saga and a James Gunn that leaves Marvel heading for its Distinguished Competition. And, in that of the second animated adventure of ‘Spidey’ and its variants, of a film outside the continuity of the MCU whose production does not correspond to disney, but to Sony Pictures.

DC: The Final Crisis?

As is well known, the house of batman and superman usually title “Crisis” those events in comics intended to clean up its continuity. Judging by his film career since 2013 and The man of steel, to DC’s career on the big screen fits that word too well (although not intentionally).

With Zack Snyder already completely out of the equation, and with Black Adam as the first abyss of its commercial trajectory, this year the studio has suffered another disappointment with Shazam! The fury of the gods: light years from the success of the first installment, the return of Zachary Levy and his mythological family amassed 133 million on a budget of 125, which sends it directly to the disaster box.

Still from 'Shazam! The fury of the gods

Rocambolesque in itself (due to its multiple changes of director, its delays and the bickering about the alleged criminal history of Ezra Miller in case of The Flash It hasn’t been anything to write home about either. The film, which had a budget of around 220 million, raised 270 million, to which we must add some lukewarm reviews at best.

As to Blue Beetle, A film that was about to go direct to VOD has not been spared from this trend either. Despite the sympathy of critics, the debut of Xolo Maridueña as DC’s first Latin hero he accumulated 129 million, which makes it nothing less than the lowest-grossing film in the history of the DCEU.

Jason Momoa and Amber Heard meet again in 'Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom'

To officially close the studio’s 2023 fiscal year, we will have to wait for the premiere of Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom he December 20th. But given that in those depths one of the least popular heroes of the house awaits us (despite the charisma of Jason Momoa with a James Wan who can’t wait to say goodbye to DC and with those rumors about a shoot full of conflicts between the star and Amber Heard, There is no reason to expect a radical break either.

The reasons for a plummet

It is clear that no success story can be infinite. And also that, after eleven long years of empire over Hollywood, it is good that superhero blockbusters give up their ground to other varieties of cinema. However, Observing the reasons for this debacle can be interesting.

Pedro Pascal could star in 'The Fantastic Four'.

We have already talked about how Marvel has not been able to find characters that match those in charisma. Captain America either Hombre de Hierro of yesteryear, something that adds to the poor technical finish of many of their new productions (which, in turn, has a lot to do with the painful working conditions of the studio). As for DC, its lack of creative coherence and the ever-present aftermath of the Snyderism They become burdens that he does not know how to get rid of.

If we look at box office demographics, these scourges add up to one that may be even more worrying for executives: the inability of new releases to connect with the young audience.

James Gunn collapses in Chris Pratt's arms

For example, viewers of Quantumania in the US they were overwhelmingly men over 25 years old, a profile that is repeated in the case of Flash. In the case of The Marvels, This diagnosis has been repeated again: only 19% of the film’s viewers in the US were between 18 and 24 years old.

Whether executives like it or not, the audience for fantasy and action blockbusters is essentially young. And, if you work in those parameters, Generational change is an inevitable fact: the boys and girls who came up with The Avengers They are already twenty-somethings, or thirty-somethings, for whom the golden titles of the MCU are on their way to becoming a golden childhood memory.

Iman Vellani in 'Ms. Marvel'.

Likewise, the overwhelming predominance of men in the audience of these films is something that should be taken into account if we think that Barbie, the big blockbuster of the year, has amassed more than 1,441 million at the box office, attracting an audience made up of more than 65% women. Even more so if we remember that, not so long ago, Kevin Feige boasted about the MCU’s ability to attract female viewers.

In this way, superhero movies are going from enjoying almost universal appeal to being niche products. It remains to be seen if the two major studios in the field will take measures to counteract this evolution, if they will assume that their time has passed and migrate towards other paths… or if they will simply continue to squeeze their formulas until they give no more.

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