Marvel's plan for a comeback sounds like it could actually work

Marvel wants to make fewer but better movies and shows spaced further apart. Will this win back fans who have strayed away?
Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool/Wade Wilson in Marvel Studios' DEADPOOL & WOLVERINE. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2024 20th Century Studios / © and ™ 2024 MARVEL.
Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool/Wade Wilson in Marvel Studios' DEADPOOL & WOLVERINE. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2024 20th Century Studios / © and ™ 2024 MARVEL. /

Here's the story as history knows it: Marvel Studios was once the most powerful studio in Hollywood, peaking with the release of Avengers: Endgame in 2019. Incoming CEO Bob Chapek was determined to keep the good times rolling, so he and his team hatched a plan to ramp up production of Marvel movies and especially Marvel TV shows, so that the fledging Disney+ streaming service would have content for fans practically year-round.

That worked well at first — everyone loved WandaVision, the first Marvel show to air on the service — but returns started diminishing quickly. By the time we got to stuff like Moon Knight and She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, interest was flagging, and hit a nadir last year with the release of Secret Invasion, the worst-performing Marvel show to date.

The fatigue transferred to the big screen. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which was supposed to start a bold new phase in the MCU with a bold new villain — Kang the Conqueror, played by Jonathan Majors — to match, underperformed at the box office in 2023, although it still made a profit. The same can't be said of The Marvels, which came out later that same year. According to The Hollywood Reporter, that movie made only $206 million on a budget of over $250 million. Marvel had dropped its first outright bomb, unthinkable for a studio that was on top of the world only a few years before.

Marvel vows to make less and better, not more and meh

So that's the part of the movie where the hero is down and out. But they always get back up, and that's what Marvel is trying to do. In 2022, Chapek left Disney, replaced by former CEO Bob Iger, who's gone about articulating a new vision for Marvel Studios: fewer but better movies and shows. “Some of our studios lost a little focus," he said on an earnings call earlier this month. "So the first step that we’ve taken is that we’ve reduced volume. We’ve reduced output, particularly at Marvel [in order to ensure] the films you’re making can be even better.”

This is almost certainly the right course of action, and you can already see it working. People actually seem to be looking forward to Deadpool & Wolverine, which is the only Marvel movie on the docket for 2024. In 2025, we're scheduled to get Captain America: Brave New World, Thunderbolts and possibly the new Fantastic Four movie; three movies is a lot, but the old Marvel probably would have pushed to release Blade and Shang-Chi 2 in that time period as well, and I wouldn't be surprised if one of those films got pushed back a bit. In 2026 we're getting the next Avengers movie, which is being retooled to pivot away from the character of Kang after Jonathan Majors was found guilty of reckless assault and harassment; this kind of high-profile scandal was also a new one for Marvel.

As for TV shows, Marvel is reorienting things so showrunners have more creative control; before, power was shared loosely among producers, which could explain why so many of the series seemed to lack distinction. They also seem to be embracing the "less is more" attitude for TV as well as movies. The only two Marvel shows coming out this year are Echo — which dropped all at once in January to so little fanfare you almost wonder if Marvel didn't want anyone paying attention to it — and Agatha: Darkhold Diaries, a spinoff of WandaVision. It's pretty quiet for Marvel in 2024. “The focus is internal this year,” one insider told THR. Meanwhile, we haven't heard about shows like Ironheart in a while, which indicates it's getting pushed back, another sign that Marvel wants to space out its content.

I think these are all the right moves, at least on paper. Seeing the hype for movies like Deadpool & Wolverine and Fantastic Four makes it feel like we're back in the mid-2010s, when everything Marvel touched turned to gold. All these projects still have hurdles to clear, of course, but I think we could be in for a comeback arc for Marvel over the next few years. “They’re not going to give up,” says one source. “They want to make something great.”

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