The State of the Marvel-verse and Blockbuster Movies

Let’s move discussion of the overall issues with the MCU and blockbuster IP troubles from individual movie threads into this one.

I will start with this.

One big possibility for Marvel’s and Star Wars’ TV troubles has been the unorthodox way they have been producing shows.

Marvel’s approach towards television was both different from the way they worked on feature films, and the way the development of a television series regularly works in the industry. Up until this point, the studio filmed entire seasons of television worth $150 million a piece without shooting a pilot first to see if they felt comfortable with the tone of the story and the dynamics between the characters. In addition to filming the complete seasons on a whim, the company fired creatives who had been working on any given project for about a year in favor of taking a different direction with the story.

The big issue is that they are treating TV shows like movies. There are no show-runners, traditional writers rooms, or overall team vision that most successful TV shows have. They decided to go with what they know (making Marvel movies) and translate that into TV, and it didn’t work.

An article about the issues with Mission Impossible and Indiana Jones.

“Indy 5,” which opened in late June, has grossed $375 million globally after six weeks of release, while “M:I 7,” which debuted in July, has generated $523 million after five weeks of release. Those ticket sales are respectable in the current moviegoing landscape, especially because the films are part of decades-old properties aimed at older audiences.

The trouble is that each sequel cost roughly $300 million before marketing spends of at least $100 million, making them among the most expensive movies of all time. After falling short of expectations, they could lose nearly $100 million in their theatrical runs, according to sources familiar with the financials of similar productions.

Are people just sick and tired of sequels? Strong IP has always been the basis for strong returns, but what is going on? A new Indiana Jones movie! With Harrison Ford! No Shia LeBeouf!

This is happening pretty much with every franchise.

The stark reality is that blockbusters face a treacherous path to profitability. Take Universal’s high-octane “Fast X,” whose production budget was $340 million: Despite earning $704 million at the global box office this summer, that film barely crawled into the black and will post a modest profit, according to sources familiar with its financing.

The 7th Fast and Furious (the last one with Paul Walker) was the last one I saw in theaters.

Production costs for these big blockbusters has skyrocketed in the last five years or so. It used to be that $200 million was a huge budget. Now we’re at $350 million. No surprise that these movies aren’t working.

Some info from about production budgets:

These are from the top PG-13 releases of all time list at Top Lifetime Grosses by MPAA Rating - Box Office Mojo

I’m not sure if these amounts are normalized to 2023 dollars. I don’t think so.

Star Wars: Episode VII (2015) - $245 million
Avengers: Endgame (2019) - $356 million
Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) - $260 million
Avatar (2009) - $237 million
Titanic (1997) - $200 million
Jurassic World (2015) - $150 million
Avengers (2012) - $220 million
Rogue One (2016) - $200 million

You have to have something of an asterisk to the production costs of the ones like MI:7 though. That started shooting the moment the pandemic started, had to figure out protocols for how to keep production during it, and paid for all the crew during the many shutdowns.

Didn’t they also shoot some of Part 2 at the same time? I thought I read they had like 1/3rd of the film shot already.

Yeah, a bit under 40% was McQuarrie’s estimate in one of the interviews.

While that is true that the Pandemic added loads of costs to these productions, the studios paid those bills. They kept production going.

Mission Impossible is its own separate thing as well. The Marvel movies and budgets have been skyrocketing since before the pandemic.

Sure, but you kind of have to see those extra pandemic costs as an investment in there actually being anything at the other end of it.

But yes, generally I agree - budgets are far too bloated. Every other movie in cinemas should not cost 200+ million dollars.

This was posted in the general movie thread, but it’s far more relevant here:

Yes, that is a very good watch on the subject.

There’s probably an argument to be made that basically no movies should cost that much. The entire top 3 of this year’s box office had budgets in the $100M-$150M range. The thinking between the ballooning budgets is probably that it’s a hit driven industry, so it’s worth spending just $10M more for a tiny bit larger chance of making it a hit. Except it seems to not be true, because movie execs seem to not be good at estimating how much improvement they’re getting for that money and how much the audience will care. A lot of the time it feels like the bigger budgets are just a straight out drawback.

There was an article about Blumhouse years ago, and about how fanatical Jason Blum was about sticking to their tiny budgets. So they give Boy Next Door - the smash hit Jennifer Lopez movie I’m sure you’ve all seen - a budget of $4M. And the director gets it done for that money, but in editing the pivotal scene of J-Lo stabbing the bad boy next door through the eye with an icepick just doesn’t work. It doesn’t look right. So he goes back to Jason Blum asking for just another $200k to reshoot that with a better wax model. Blum turns it down; no matter how pivotal the scene, he is not increasing the budget of the movie by 5% for a two-second shot, the audiences just won’t care enough. (The director got the money for the reshoot from the distributor, and the movie made like 15x its budget.)

I know that nobody (including me!) liked The Creator, but I continue to be amazed that it only cost $80M considering how good it looked. So it’ll come reasonably close to breaking even despite being some of the worst writing in years. If the process is as generalizable as it looks, that could be very helpful for bringing budgets down for a certain kind of movie.

Here’s a crazy number: $86M. Want to guess what that number is before opening the spoiler section?

Ha, I bet you thought that was a budget. No, actually that’s the entire world-wide box office take of the first John Wick. How in the world did such a bomb get three sequels and a spin-off show? By costing only $20M to make. Even by John Wick 3, the budget is still just $75M. That’s pretty wild, because just from a visual perspective I’d totally take those movies over Disney’s greenscreen slop.

Thanks for posting this, did a nice job.

I like Patrick, and he makes some good points.

But there is one fatal flaw with his thesis, one culprit he did not even consider.

Prestige TV. Obviously this isn’t new, shows like The Wire and Sopranos have existed for 20 years now, but there has been an expansion and increased footprint for them. As home experienced have improved with things like relatively cheap 4K sets and access to more streaming delivery options, the prestige TV set has absolutely eaten the lunch of the, as he puts it, adult dramas.

Going to the movies is an expensive hassle. Tickets run $15 or more in most places, the experience can be very variable, and if you have kids the logistics and cost are prohibitive at times. Add it all up and to justify going to a movie theater there has to be some justification. There needs to be something about that film that just isn’t the same at home. A movie like Mission Impossible can clear that bar, but a serious drama absolutely can not. Dune will be day one for me, but Killers of the Flower Moon is marginal. While I absolutely am interested in the later, my wife is less so and I am not likely to force the issue for a movie that will be just as good at home for a fraction of the cost.

The reality is that the quality and quantity of serious dramas available as miniseries or regular TV series has increased a lot, and home experience quality has improved. The theatrical serious drama was on life support pre Covid, but once Covid forced things I think whatever lingering connection those had to the theatrical experience has been largely severed.

Same with comedies. Now, granted, I’m quite down on the bulk of American comedies for the last mumble decades. So much lowest common denominator crap, as exemplified by gestures at everything Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider. But even so there have been good ones. Thing is I can watch something like Ted Lasso at home, and get a smart comedy with excellent writing. There isn’t anything that would justify the effort to see a comedy in theaters unless I can take the kids. At best it is equal in quality, for much higher cost.

So a lot of genres just don’t make sense to go see in theaters, and it largely has to do with the quality of what’s available at home. Which, yeah, is related to streaming but is separate still. I think a lot of people, especially the group in their 30’s and 40’s with kids, found the home experience is now good enough that movie theaters only make sense for truly exceptional experiences.

I mean this year has actually been the most active movie theater year for me in a decade. Spiderverse, Oppenheimer, Barbie, Mission Impossible, Guardians 3, Ant Man, Mario, maybe one or two more I’m forgetting right now. Twice as many movies as previous years in theaters, really. Partly because my son is now old enough to go with. Add in movies like Killers of the Flower Moon which I absolutely will watch once they hit Apple TV, and it’s a great year.

But it’s a tall ask to ignore the impact the home experience has in changing what makes sense to go to the theater for.

If prestige tv is your primary suspect does that mean we’re in for some good cinema again since prestige tv itself is dying, or at least I keep reading it is?

I think that’s still covered implicitly by the suspects - primarily Netflix. It goes hand in hand with killing ancillary revenues. Used to be a movie that didn’t quite make its money back in theaters could still get in the black by dvd sales, rentals, cable rights and finally broadcast for those who stayed home. Netflix destroyed that, so the equation changed and the focus shifted to blockbuster movies because those seemed like a sure bet, which trained audiences to only go to the cinema for those kinds of movies and turn to TV for the kind of dramas, thrillers and comedies that used to be where movie stars were made

To me, the most insane thing, is that Indiana Jones movie cost 300 million to make, and has so far, not broken 400 million worldwide.

Marketing estimates of “equal the cost of the film” are antiquated now that we have moved blockbuster movie budgets into the extreme. I have heard estimated the budget for marketing Indiana jones was at least 100-150 million, if not more.

So, it has lost money, which is crazy. This is one of the most beloved franchises of all time, (albeit with a not much loved 4th installment) with the original actor returning… to lose a significant amount of money ~100 million, is crazy.

It “reviewed well” with a 67% on rotten tomatoes. But when you spend 300 million on a movie, I think you need to be shooting for closer to 80%. A 3 star movie is not going to get people to buy movie tickets.

I mean, sort of. But I think it’s distinct enough and has a different starting point and impact.

Now certainly streaming services like Netflix and Apple TV and Amazon Prime have amped it up considerably. There is a point in time a movie like Air is a pure theatrical release. In fact there is a point in time that is a solid example of exactly the type of movie that Patrick says don’t exist anymore. One that is solidly profitable and earns various awards. But one that only got a minimum theatrical release to qualify for awards. Instead it exists for Prime video. And that’s where I watched it.

And while I could have seen it in theaters, and had multiple options that would have made that possible locally, I didn’t.

But I think that happens because services like HBO had set the bar for made for home viewing. If HBO hadn’t created shows like The Wire, and had networks like AMC not followed up with shows like Breaking Bad, then I think the conception of what is possible within the home viewing space is more limited. That in the absence of the high quality prestige TV that would absolutely rival the budgets, polish, and writing of traditional cinema then a movie like Air doesn’t get picked as a direct to streaming option. It reframed what it could be, and then streaming services like Netflix came around and turned it up to 11. By making the boundary between cinema and television blurry, how many of the big name actors and actresses have also done TV, it set the table for today.

What is “prestige tv” lately anyway?

I think we might have passed by that era now.

Or those particular movies are just not very good?

I know it’s popular to express this sentiment, but it’s kind of hard to take seriously when there’s so much great streaming content that it’s impossible to keep up with it: of this year’s releases, I’ve enjoyed Beef, Poker Face, The Last of Us, Gen V, Mrs. Davis, Bargain, Full Circle, and Secret Invasion. I’d like to check out Loki, Hijack, I’m a Virgo, Crowded Room, and I’m sure a few others.

Indiana Jones was very mediocre, but after the last movie I can’t blame anyone for staying away. Mission Impossible, though, was perfectly fine and well worth seeing for folks who like action movies. I don’t understand the failure there.