Are Marvel’s Slipping Movie Audience Scores Affecting Their Box Office Bottom Line?

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Like “Eternals” and “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” before it, “Thor: Love and Thunder” has arrived to audience reception that’s less enthusiastic than the rave reviews we’ve come to expect from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But how much will that affect its box office run?

This weekend, Taika Waititi’s second go-around with the God of Thunder opened to $143 domestic and $302 million worldwide, but joined “Eternals” and “Multiverse of Madness” as the third consecutive Disney-released Marvel film to fail to earn an A or A- on CinemaScore, earning a B+ instead. Prior to last November, the only MCU film that slipped below the A-range in the audience poll was the first “Thor” in 2011.

For “Eternals,” the tepid audience and critics’ reviews, combined with a lack of familiarity with the dozen characters it introduced and an overseas market still wrestling with COVID, left it struggling to break even. The Chloe Zhao-directed film barely cracked $400 million worldwide, and its $164.8 million domestic total was down 27% from what “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” grossed just two months prior with the sort of audience buzz to which Marvel is accustomed.

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“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” had more things going for it, and thus was able to perform well this summer despite milder-than-expected audience reception. With three weeks in May as the only blockbuster in theaters before “Top Gun: Maverick” arrived, “Multiverse of Madness” turned its $187 million opening into a three-week total of $354 million.

With Doctor Strange and “WandaVision” protagonist Wanda Maximoff still very popular thanks to their appearances in past Marvel titles, the film was able to become the second-highest grossing movie of the year so far, despite disappointment among hardcore fans over Wanda’s villainous turn and that the film didn’t dig deeper into the multiverse storyline teased by “Loki” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

The impact of this disappointment was more felt after “Top Gun: Maverick” arrived. Quickly cementing itself as the most exciting film of the year while pulling away premium format support, “Maverick” took the legs out from “Multiverse of Madness,” which has made only 14% of its domestic total after the release of Tom Cruise’s blockbuster. While it’s difficult to say how much better it would have done against the biggest Memorial Day weekend release ever, “Multiverse of Madness” may have had the legs to reach $1 billion worldwide had it gotten the more enthusiastic reception that “Shang-Chi” or “No Way Home” had.

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The good news for “Thor: Love and Thunder” is that it won’t have to worry about a “Maverick”-level blockbuster. The biggest films left for general audiences on the summer slate are the Universal horror film “Nope” and the Sony action comedy “Bullet Train,” neither of which are expected to open above $55 million. While it’s possible that either film could pull wider moviegoer interest away from “Thor” if word-of-mouth is strong enough, it likely won’t be to the extent of what we saw in late May.

That means “Love and Thunder’s” performance will be on its own merits. Director and co-writer Taika Waititi designed this film to be a crowd-pleaser with “Heavy Metal”-inspired visuals and more of the goofier Thor that the filmmaker and star Chris Hemsworth introduced in “Thor: Ragnarok” four years ago. Thanks to that previous success, “Love and Thunder” has opened better than past July Marvel films like “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (which opened to $117 million) and should finish in a similar range with a domestic total of $325-350 million.

But if the film’s second weekend total slips below $57 million, that would be a drop of more than 60% and a sign that without the usual Marvel buzz, “Thor: Love and Thunder” is headed for a frontloaded theatrical run. Even then, that won’t stop this film from being a box office success, and upcoming Marvel films like “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” should also be able to perform well off the popularity of their predecessors even if audiences don’t think they’re quite as good.

But that MCU goodwill isn’t infinite, and franchises from “Star Wars” to Wizarding World have seen diminishing returns when audiences don’t feel like their recent offerings are as good as they used to be. The social media grumblings around Phase Four of the MCU haven’t made that big a dent in the films’ box office fortunes yet, but the numbers might creep down in the coming years if Marvel’s future releases don’t receive the wild excitement that “No Way Home” got. The kind of MCU fandom response that the franchise scored without fail in the past.

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