Marvel fumbled 2022, but has the MCU flopped? +2023

Throughout 2022, Marvel Studios released three blockbusters and debuted three new series starring all-new heroes Disney+and even gave us two wonderfully clever “Special Presentations”: Werewolf at night and The Guardians of the Galaxy Christmas Special. And yet in 2022 it didn’t feeling like a banner year for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. From December 2nd Top Gun: Maverick dominates the annual box office race with the likes of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Thor: Love and Thunderand Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Hundreds of millions of dollars behind. This year’s list of Disney+ debuts lacked the pop culture resonance of WandaVision‘s ubiquitous memes and, for the first time, fans may be wondering if the MCU has lost its stranglehold on pop culture.

Since iron man Premiered in 2008, Marvel appears to have been largely bulletproof. Movie buffs and comic book nerds alike have more than embraced the MCU, sending movie after movie to the top of the box office. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has also permeated almost every imaginable part of pop culture, well beyond Halloween costumes and kids’ lunch boxes. (I literally bought bananas with Avengers-branded stickers on the skin.) The MCU is loved, hated, envied, and even despised as the killer of good cinema. Like it or not, it’s a part of our lives. But has it loosened its grip on our collective psyche?

Was 2022 the beginning of the end for the MCU? It’s certainly weird to see a non-MCU film dominating the box office (in a non-COVID year). I personally haven’t heard it moon knight or She Hulk‘s title buzzed around water coolers with the same intensity as stranger things or house of the dragon. Is the Marvel brand as superhumanly strong as ever? Or did the inevitable descent into insignificance begin in 2022?

DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS, from left: Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr.  Stephen Strange, 2022. © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / © Marvel Studios / Courtesy Everett Collection
© Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett Collection

How bad was 2022 for the MCU?

Has it felt like a bad year for the MCU for you? Could there be actual numerical data to support this hunch? Guess what? There is. 2022 was indeed a bad year for Kevin Feige and his universe of heroes, villains and quirky little scene thieves. Since this is the first year that Marvel has produced special presentations, we can’t compare them to past accomplishments. But we can take a look at how the MCU’s original show and movies fared.

First, let’s look at the condition of the Marvel Cinematic Box Office.

In the decade between 2012 and 2021, MCU films occupied six top spots on the annual domestic box office list. In 2020, they were only missing from the list because their film list was paused due to the pandemic. In fact, aside from 2020, Marvel was in a hot streak of box office dominance ahead of 2022. Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War were a close first and second place in 2018, Avengers: Endgame was at the top of the list in 2019, and Spider-Man: No Way Home dominated 2021 (and part of 2022).

You’d think that run would continue into 2022, but no. Top Gun: Maverick not only flew past Marvel’s bids this year, but over $300 million separates it from the current runner-up flick of the year. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. That’s almost a whole Thor: Love and Thunder. The Tom Cruise showcase is even being brought back to theaters this holiday season to take on its last two rivals for that top spot: Avatar: The Way of Water and still sturdy Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. I think it’s safe to say that was 2022 top gun‘s year to shine, not marvels.

And what about the MCU’s Disney+ offerings? 2021 WandaVision not only garnered Emmy nominations for Marvel, but became a true pop culture phenomenon. (It didn’t hurt that it was the first new Marvel project fans had gotten since 2019.) Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Lokiand hawk eye Everyone brought Avengers to the small screen. In 2022, the MCU took a few more risks with its Disney+ slate, introducing fans to a trio of new faces.

moon knight, starring Oscar Isaac and Ethan Hawke, was a smash hit for Marvel. According to Nielsen data, the show not only debuted in the top ten but also held its ground, gaining reach week after week. Although it never likes to overthrow Netflix juggernauts Bridgeton or ozark From first place, it ended its six-year run as the third most streamed title across major platforms.

Mrs Miracle and She Hulk, but didn’t fare as well. While Mrs Miracle, starring newcomer Iman Vellani, narrowly cracked the Nielsen top ten for original streaming programming on its debut but struggled to gain momentum over the weeks. It has never pushed its way into the top list, combining originals and legacy titles. She Hulk debuted similarly on the Originals roster but eventually picked up some steam. Only slightly.

In sports lingo, it’s been a build-up year for Marvel’s Disney+ slate. But was it a total flop?

Ms. Marvel credits - Carol in Kamala's room
Photo: Disney+

Did the MCU flop in 2022?

Ready for my hottest shot: Despite the pitfalls mentioned above, Marvel did it Not Entering its flop era in 2022. Not even close. The MCU is still a massive pop culture titan and will remain so well into 2023.

Okay, sure, it’s starting to look like it Top Gun: Maverick will prevent the MCU from claiming the best box office of 2022. But all four Marvel movies that hit theaters this year are in the top ten this year Black Panther: Wakanda Forever still up the chart. People still show up for Marvel movies.

On the Disney+ site Mrs Miracle and She Hulk both pulled up respectable numbers, with the latter growing week-on-week. moon knight, on the other hand, has been an undeniable success story for Disney+. You may not have seen many Moon Knights or Scarlet Scarabs wandering the neighborhood on Halloween, but viewership was strong from start to finish.

Marvel’s Special presentations were both creative triumphs. By existing outside of the larger Phase 4 structure, Werewolf at night and The Guardians of the Galaxy Christmas Special has proven that the MCU still has gas in the tank to tell new stories in exciting new ways.

The MCU faced no work in 2022. Still, it’s clear that the franchise is finally showing some flaws. What are these flaws? And how did Top Gun: Maverick exploit them? Let’s get into that…

BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER, (aka BLACK PANTHER II), Letitia Wright, 2022. © Marvel / © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection
Photo: Everett Collection

Why did the MCU wobble in 2022?

For over a decade, Marvel has been able to dominate the pop culture landscape with a winning formula that appeals to comic book fans and casual moviegoers alike. But in recent years, being a casual MCU fan has become increasingly difficult. The success of Marvel’s films meant that parent company Disney began flooding the landscape with more and more MCU content. We’ve gone from having one or two Marvel movies in theaters a year to at least three. Add to that the constant flow of MCU-related content on Disney+ and we’re living in a state of Marvel saturation. There’s just too much to do. And it’s all so connected now that you’ll have to keep up with every project if you want to understand what’s going on! It’s a situation that alienates all but the most devoted Marvel fans.

Additionally, by satisfying Marvel fans’ constant cries for more content, the MCU has ironically made its projects seem less special. Getting a new Marvel movie or show is no longer a big deal. Additionally, in the rush to complete all of these projects, cutbacks were made. There’s an industry-wide VFX crunch problem that has resulted in poor working conditions for artists and subpar on-screen results. Marvel has been specifically credited for being among the most draconian studios to work for in the industry, and even casual viewers have started shouting out shaky VFX in final projects.

Which leads us to the why Top Gun: Maverick beat Marvel at the box office this year. Not only did the film mark Tom Cruise’s long-awaited return to one of his most iconic roles, but the film’s thrilling action sequences were, uh, real. Cruise and his fellow cast members learned how to become real life fighter pilots and put their bodies through rigorous training to obtain the most imaginable footage. Director Joseph Kosinski meticulously arranged action sequences to present the audience as cleanly and clearly as possible. Compared to the pixel blurring we see in MCU movies, Top Gun: Maverick‘s action was a literal miracle. It offered moviegoers that “specialness” that Marvel’s constant rotation of shows and films has been sorely lacking of late.

By most metrics, Marvel had an exceptionally strong 2022. It’s only when you compare the studio’s performance to itself that you can see where the MCU is starting to flag. The MCU machine is still a juggernaut dominating the rest of the pop culture landscape, but it’s starting to show its age. Whether or not the MCU can regain its distinctiveness and keep casual fans happy depends on the execution of the next big storyline and the power of a villain named Kang.

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