A new phase for superhero movies

19 May, 2023

When we reflect on the most significant events that have shaped global pop culture over the past decade, it's hard to ignore the impact of superhero movies. While the first Iron Man film and the Marvel Cinematic Universe were launched at the end of the 2000s, it was in the 2010s that the superhero franchise truly established itself, shattering box office records and culminating in Avengers: Endgame becoming the highest grossing film of all time for nearly two years. Now, after a decade of tremendous success, the industry and its audiences are left wondering what to expect in the next phase of this superhero phenomenon.

Covid-19 changed the course of MCU phase 4 strategies and it is difficult to say how successful movies like Black Widow and Shang-Chi would have been without the restrictions brought by the pandemic. However, it is not a stretch to say that the introduction of a new team of heroes as in Eternals and a new villain for a new 5th phase on Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania did not excite fans or generate critical acclaim. It’s a similar story if we consider the last two films released by the DC Extended Universe, Black Adam and Shazam 2: Fury of Gods. Faced with underwhelming receptions like this, both major superhero franchises appear to be stuck in a funk recently.

Does that mean that we are living in superhero fatigue? I hate to sidestep the question, but it is too soon to endorse this bold statement. Yes, we are watching a box office decline, however, if we analyze Q1 2023,  the ten most in-demand superhero movies all generated an exceptional level of global demand. Less than 1% of the movies tracked by Parrot Analytics had a demand higher than 32 times the average title, which underscores the appetite of global audiences for this genre. Guardians of the Galaxy just opened with a domestic box office of $114 million. Although it was slightly lower than industry expectations, the film was able to reach an "A” on the “Cinemascore”.


However, it’s clear that movie events and specific characters can make a difference. Considering the 45 day post-premiere window, Avengers: Infinity War and Spider-Man: No Way Home had the highest demand among superhero films, which means that the audience was all about the reunion of their beloved characters. For DC, The Elseworld IPs, and not the titles from the DC Extended Universe, have so far yielded the most in-demand premieres for the studio, which means that James Gunn will have a tough task to reboot the Extended Universe and still conquer some exceptional love (and demand) from the audience.


If we analyze the two studios' portfolios considering the average demand of the last 5 years, Marvel is once again in the lead, with 5 titles in the Exceptional bucket. Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame had the highest demand during the time by a wide margin. On the other hand, the titles with the lowest demand in the period were the latest releases from both franchises, indicating a need for a fresh approach.


After a decade of blockbusters, the superhero genre is entering a new era of challenges. Although there still is a global demand for the genre and millions of dollars at the box office, the new releases will need to bring something different to the battlefield in order to succeed. With a new phase for both MCU and DCEU on the horizon, the next movies will prove a point - for better or for worse.

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