Record plunge in box office take for Marvel’s new 'Ant-Man' film heightens crisis at Disney

Disney’s juggernaut, Marvel Studios, is beginning to show signs of superhero fatigue. 

U.S. box office receipts for Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania, which tees up critical events to come in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, suffered the worst one-week drop ever for a movie set in the MCU. 

According to the latest figures, the third instalment of the tiny titular protagonist took home just $32 million during its second weekend, a 70% collapse that surpassed the drop in Black Widow, which debuted during the pandemic two years ago.

Its ticket sales do not bode well for Disney interim CEO Bob Iger, brought out of retirement to announce 7,000 layoffs company-wide and $3 billion in content cost cuts earlier this month.

It could also diminish interest next month in Warner Bros. Discovery’s sequel to superhero sleeper hit Shazam, whose projected first-weekend take was cut 17% by market researcher Box Office Pro.

Third Ant-Man outing as ‘integral’ to MCU’s future as Captain America: Civil War

Due to the interwoven nature of Marvel Studio’s narrative, the plunge in interest presents distinct problems for the overall franchise going forward. 

Quantumania introduces viewers to Kang the Conqueror, the supervillain at the centerpiece of the MCU’s Phase 5, which kicked off with the debut of this film.

Any viewer broadly interested in following his overarching storyline would need to watch the Ant-Man threequel to fully understand future events. 

“We wanted to kick off Phase 5 with a third film of characters who were already beloved and really utilize them,” studio boss Kevin Feige explained earlier this month. The film’s producer Stephen Broussard went so far as to call it as “important and integral” to Marvel’s future as 2016’s Captain America: Civil War.

It came as no surprise then that Disney trumpeted the first week’s performance last Tuesday, claiming the $250 million global draw was proof the film “conquered the global box office”, a pun in nodding reference to the villain’s sobriquet. 

By extension, this past weekend’s dwindling receipts suggest audiences may not be connecting with Kang, despite a well-received performance by actor Jonathan Majors. The character replaces Thanos as the ultimate baddie in the upcoming Avengers: The Kang Dynasty.

Disney could not be reached by Fortune for a comment.

Pressure now on Guardians of the Galaxy sequel

Word of mouth has not been helpful for the third outing of Ant-Man either, as critics have panned Quantumania for excessive use of computer-generated imagery rather than conventional production design and practical effects that feel more authentic and immersive.

“We don’t just loose track of the characters, we stop caring about them,” said veteran film reviewer Peter Travers, calling the digital effects “substandard”. 

The Atlantic derided the Marvel engine as “an increasingly creaky machine that nevertheless keeps grinding away, dropping superstar performers into CGI glop because the show simply must go on.” 

Quantumania’s record drop raises the pressure on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 to deliver the goods for Disney and reignite interest in the MCU when it hits theaters nationwide on May 5. 

Once upon a time, Marvel consistently delivered hit after hit on the strength of its two charismatic anchors, Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America, both fan favorites now lacking following the conclusion of the Infinity War saga. 

Right now the only reliable box-office draws decked out in tights are Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, whose movie rights Marvel actually shares with Sony Pictures, and the critically acclaimed Black Panther series from director Ryan Coogler, which garnered five Oscar nominations.

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