In what is becoming a sterling example of studio problematics, Disney is looking at a historically poor performance from its once-reliable component. Its Marvel division has long been a reliable cash-making entity, but in recent years that property has become a challenge. The once dependable movies have become hit-and-miss, and the superhero offerings on its streaming have been more miss. Now the company is looking at a villainous performance in theaters.
Last week saw the release of “The Marvels”, and the Brie Larson-led film was a resounding failure. The months preceding the premiere saw revised prospects for the film, as initial expectations of earning $100 million or so on its opening weekend began to be scaled back. Predictions became around $80 million based on diminished social media interest, then the week before release saw further tracking changes as the presales were showing a lack of passion from moviegoers.
Last weekend delivered a blunt reality, as the movie fell short of even those new predictions, as it debuted with $47 million, a record low for a Marvel movie. Excuses were made, chalking up the performance to “superhero fatigue”, or resorting to the studio’s regular practice of blaming the audience; toxic masculinity was accused of leading to the failure of the female-driven film, a claim undone by reality. Audience data showed that two-thirds of the ticket buyers were male.
This second weekend delivered more dismal news. “The Marvels” barely managed to earn $10 million, making for a severe -79% drop from its premiere. This makes for the worst second-weekend performance of any comic book film, surpassing the reviled Marvel release “Morbius”. This is primed to be one of Disney’s largest money losers. Sporting a budget estimated in the $270 range, after factoring in marketing costs (as well as tax subsidies), it is estimated the film needs a final box office haul of $450-500 million to break even. It is on pace to fall well short of that goal.
The studio needed the exact opposite to take place. The self-created problems at the Disney Company have become legion, and they appear to be mounting. There has been speculation for some time that the internal upheaval at the House of Mouse could lead to a hostile takeover, and as problems only continue to spiral for the studio that is becoming more of a likelihood. Nelson Peltz, who heads the investment firm Trian Fund Management, and has been developing a growing presence on Disney’s board.
This is becoming a reality as the stock has recently hit a yearly low, a result of failures being realized across several spectrums. Motion picture releases – “Lightyear”, “Strange World”, “Indiana Jones 5”, and the recent “The Creator” -= have been seeing consistent losses. The theme parks have seen diminished crowds, television has long been struggling (made worse by writers and actors strikers) and the less said about streaming, the better. Disney+ has been losing subscribers and billions of dollars annually.
The studio chose to enter into a political dispute in Florida with Governor Ron DeSantis, another move leading to negative impacts. Battles over operations in the Orlando area have developed as a result, as have the reactions from the general public. By electing to contest the parental rights in education legislation the company took a very public stance that runs contrary to family standards, the very foundation of Disney’s generations of success catering to the audience for family entertainment. Polls showed strong support for the Florida law, and polling showed the company lost favorability with the general public.
All of this could be placed as the responsibility of CEO Bob Iger. Ironically this was due to his maneuvering done while he was not in charge. Years back Iger stepped away and placed his choice as a successor, Bob Chapek. When the Florida issue first emerged Chapek was content to take a neutral stance on the issue. This was a wise move, as roiling political emotions in your audience is rarely a fruitful endeavor. However Iger was giving interviews suggesting the company should take action, and he also moved to motivate faithful executives who remained with the company.
Eventually, internal pressure led to Chapek making public statements just days later opposing the Florida law, and from there, Disney’s fortunes spiraled downward. The ensuing problems led to Chapek’s ouster and Iger's return to the helm of the company one year ago. Instead of righting the foundering ship, Iger has seemed to perpetuate the same approach he fostered from afar. The results have been the type that begins to prove the need for a new direction. Perhaps a hostile takeover by Peltzer is more than encouraged – it may be what is needed.