Tom Jolliffe looks at Marvel’s Phase Four, and what the box office expectations might be…
In the wake of the announcement of Marvel’s next phase of superhero movies, and off the back of a run of billion dollar home runs (including the two gargantuan grosses of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame) what can the studio realistically expect from Phase Four?
If we look at the output from Marvel in comparison to the popularity of the individual properties, at my best non-comic book affiliated guess (and correct me if wrong) but Marvel’s biggest comic icons are Spider-Man, Iron Man, Cap, the X-Men (due to be MCU’d before long), Hulk and I suppose just on the edge of that group, Thor. Then there’s a tier below – the Fantastic Four, Black Panther and the Guardians, who’ve all been covered (where they’ve had ownership). So when we look at Phase Four, is there a sense that many of these projects are second, maybe third tier? We’re stepping from mass comic book fandom from Spidey etc. to smaller cult followings.
How much do those comic book followings matter now? Did people expect the Guardians of the Galaxy, which most movie-goers had little previous knowledge of beforehand, to become as huge as they have been? To an extent the film studio has made an A-level property out of a B-level comic book. The Marvel studio formula has tapped into something that not all studios realise too. Make a good film… sounds simple. Make a film that people will enjoy. Have a clear, concise vision for it (that is consistent with your overall studio ethos). Hire the right people to bring it to life, because here’s the clincher… one of Marvel Comics’ jewels has always been the X-Men. The less said about the last few X-Men movies the better, and the last under a free flying Fox, in particular. Comic book iconic status does not guarantee a hit film. See also Fantastic Four.
Still… when you start diving into Raccoon territory, and whatever comes with Eternals (to be fair that seems to be a bigger comic entity than Guardians), Doctor Strange to an extent and Shang-Chi, as a studio you are largely putting your faith behind your marketing and your studio brand itself to sell the film. I’d heard of Doctor Strange, but don’t ever remember spotting a comic, or seeing more than a few fleeting cameos in Saturday morning cartoons. Regardless, as a property it’s done well for Marvel. The film’s sequel is probably Phase Four’s ‘known’ movie. It’s got pre-established credentials. Eggs Benedict Cummerbunds’ (Benedict Cumberbatch to his friends) first film grossed $678 million dollars. It’s a huge number by any measure. By a Marvel measure, in the increasing box office successes since, it’s probably a very low target.
From my outsider specs, not fully versed in comic lore, Phase Five, where the return of the Guardians, Black Panther and Thor (in his Hemsworthy guise) seems more eye-catching to me. Is Phase Four a gamble? A bridge gap? Is it a calculated attempt at further expanding a universe and separating the wheat from the chaff? Ultimately, matching the mad numbers of the Avengers films is going to be impossible. Maybe Kevin Feige and company are quite happy to have two years of steady (yeah… three quarters of a billion dollars described as ‘steady’ – welcome to 2019) grosses, possibility taking one or two disappointments alongside one or two surprise smashes. If Black Panther was a surprise hit of epic proportions, perhaps Shang-Chi could be that too. Not every ‘minor’ property will exceed box office expectations though. Some may not capture an audience, even with that bright red logo.
Likewise it would seem that TV is also going to be more central too with spinoffs announced for Hawkeye, Falcon, Loki and WandaVision (seeing the return of Vision and Scarlet Witch). These will all directly tie into current, and previous films, offering a continuation for characters perhaps not quite bankable enough to headline a big budget film. Still, it’s also a sensible extension into a highly lucrative market (and also partly explains why we’ve seen the Marvel character TV shows, seemingly popular on Netflix, face the axe).
One key and welcome gamble that we appear to be seeing with this new phase from Marvel (all under Disney’s stewardship of course) is a further diversity push. Not without their own controversies (Tilda Swinton in Doctor Strange caused a small hullabaloo) but on the whole Marvel/Disney seem to be front-lining equality. They’ve seen positive returns from female-led films and films with a predominantly black cast (helmed by a young black filmmaker). They paid off hugely and so a film like Shang-Chi doesn’t seem like quite such a calculated risk with an all-Asian cast (Scar Jo would have auditioned but she was busy playing Black Widow and a tree in her schedule). The heroes just need to be engaging. The Marvel logo just needs to fly high and proud and the audience will follow.
So whilst maintaining their position as the big studio, Marvel and Disney are also going to be a platform forger. It’s a period where studios are (perhaps not without some cynicism) pushing diversity, but success in doing so will inevitably lead to a potential (almost) level playing field. It’ll be interesting to see the returns and to see what the industry analysts consider success and failure. No studio can continually hit billion dollar targets, so what will be deemed acceptable for Marvel is going to be interesting. That’s without considering the potential for something which has yet to show signs… Marvel fatigue among the audiences.
What do you think of Marvel’s Phase Four? Which will be the biggest hits? And what sort of box office numbers do you anticipate for this next batch of movies? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us @FlickeringMyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has three features due out on DVD/VOD in 2019 and a number of shorts hitting festivals. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see…https://www.instagram.com/jolliffeproductions/