2022 was officially the year superhero films lost their grip on the box office. What does this mean for the future of Hollywood, the MCU, and the DCU?
2022 was officially the year superhero movies lost their box office dominance. With the benefit of hindsight, 2008 was a key moment in the history of Hollywood. Marvel Studios gambled with the creation of a shared universe, one featuring B- and C-list superheroes whose film rights had been passed on by other studios, or whose rights had reverted back to Marvel because they’d been stuck in Development Hell for years. Nobody expected the Marvel Cinematic Universe to be such a success, not even Marvel.
14 years later, by the end of 2022, MCU movies have grossed over $28 billion in the global box office. Avengers: Endgame, the triumphant end of Phases 1-3, brought in almost $2.8 billion worldwide. Superheroes and comic book adaptations have become all the rage, with an unceasing flood of films and TV series featuring characters and concepts as diverse and surprising as Black Adam, Shang-Chi, Miles Morales’ Spider-Man, Doom Patrol, the Umbrella Academy, and the Boys. And yet, for all that’s the case, 2022 seems to have been the year the fashion moved on a little – because superheroes lost their grip on the global box office.
Superhero Films Have Lost Their Grip On The Box Office
2022’s box office is an improvement on 2021, which will surely leave studios breathing a sigh of relief. But it’s notable that, although the year featured several major superhero films – including three MCU blockbusters – none of them broke $1 billion in the global box office. In 2018, Venom – a relatively lackluster superhero movie – made over $856 million worldwide. In 2022, only two of the year’s five superhero films broke that unlikely benchmark – Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Black Adam, a film Dwayne Johnson hoped would serve as a relaunch for the entire DC Universe, didn’t even break $400 million worldwide. The fashions are clearly changing in popular culture.
Franchises & Nostalgia Remained Important For 2022
Franchises are clearly more important than ever, though. This is best demonstrated by James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water, which broke $1 billion in the box office after just 12 days. At time of writing, it’s still too soon to assess just how well the sequel to the 2009 classic will perform; still, it’s already one of only three 2022 releases to break that $1 billion milestone. The other two are Top Gun: Maverick and Jurassic World: Dominion. Both are well-established franchises, and both were marketed on nostalgia – with Jurassic World: Dominion finally fulfilling the latest trilogy’s promise of uniting the new cast with the originals from the ’90s. Taken together, the top three hits of 2022 support the view franchises and nostalgia are at the core of modern popular culture.
Looking back, 2019 now seems to be the high watermark of the superhero genre. Wile it’s true 2020 and 2021 were affected by Covid, it’s surely significant that only one superhero movie since 2019 has exceeded $1 billion – Spider-Man: No Way Home. That particular film was uniquely designed to appeal to nostalgia as well, though, because it featured the return of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield as past iterations of Spider-Man. Its success may well have been more to do with the enduring popularity of Spider-Man and its appeal to nostalgia than it was to the MCU itself.
What Does This Mean For The Future Of Hollywood?
This doesn’t mean the superhero genre is going to go the way of the Western, of course. That’s particularly true for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where the Multiverse Saga could repeat Spider-Man: No Way Home’s nostalgia appeal by incorporating past iterations of characters like the X-Men; 2026’s Avengers: Secret Wars looks set to be perfectly timed. But the latest relaunch of the DC Universe is unfortunately taking place at just the wrong time, and DC Films boss James Gunn will need to figure out how to ride the current fashion. Sony’s Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is likely to be a hit, and set photos hint that the unlikely Madame Web is designed to appeal to fans of the Maguire Spider-Man films, but that studio’s other quixotic choices may be in trouble.
Looking beyond the superhero genre, Indiana Jones & the Dial of Destiny – which releases on June 30, 2023 – should be one of the year’s best performers. Viewers can expect Hollywood to double down on established franchises in 2023 and beyond, and sadly it wouldn’t be a surprise to find originals relegated to streaming services like Disney+. 2022 has signified a major change in the box office, but it isn’t one that benefits these originals, disappointing news for those hoping for new franchises to be born.