Could the plague of movie and TV “universes” finally be coming to a merciful end?
My exhausted eyes, ears and mind hope so. And so do audiences who are fed up with the same old repetitive superhero stories and space sagas that have dominated our screens for more than a decade like a North Korean dictator.
Sick and tired, ticket-buyers are telling Hollywood to shove it in the most effective way possible — with their wallets.
“Blue Beetle,” part of the DC Extended Universe, was squished last weekend when it made a measly $45 million at the worldwide box office.
That floperoo follows a string of embarrassing DC bombs in the past year, including “Black Adam,” “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” and “The Flash.” Losers, all.
Over at Marvel, the situation isn’t as bleak, but the party is winding down. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” — a film about a chain-smoking raccoon — earned a strong $845 million worldwide. Solid, but hardly the $1 billion to $2 billion business those flicks used to regularly earn.
Meanwhile, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s horrible “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” ($476 million) has been handily thumped this year by none other than Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer,” a somber, prestige biopic about the father of the atomic bomb that’s nearing $800 million. “Barbie” raked in $1.2 billion.
Such a result was absolutely unthinkable five years ago, but viewers’ tastes are rapidly changing. They’re hungry for something new, and another average Joe getting powers from a laboratory accident ain’t it.
Have you heard anybody excitedly talking about this fall’s “The Marvels” or next year’s “Deadpool 3”? Nope. They’re still too busy cracking “beach” jokes and debating the merit of Florence Pugh’s sex scenes. For a long while, though, Spidey, Batman and Rey were the beloved saviors of cinemas.
Since the dawn of the MCU in 2008 with “Iron Man,” entertainment has been clobbered by Napoleonic, sprawling, interconnected, franchises of films and TV series that, while sexy and novel at first, have become unbearable.
They’ve gone from a stimulating puzzle to a 7:30 a.m. college course; from epic to laughable; from obligatory viewing to “wait till it’s on streaming”; from printing money to begging for it.
The harshest offenders are Disney’s MCU (32 movies, 21 TV shows), Warner Bros.’ DC Extended Universe (15 movies, one TV show) and Wizarding World of Harry Potter (11 movies, a forthcoming seven-season TV show), Disney’s “Star Wars” stories (12 movies, 16 TV shows) and whatever the hell Amazon is doing to “Lord of the Rings.”
We were 100% on board with the behemoths when their movies and series were actually good. Marvel’s “Black Panther” was a billion-dollar-earning Best Picture Oscar nominee and “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” ended our 10-year Skywalker drought in an exciting way. “The Mandalorian” on Disney+ gave the world Baby Yoda fever for months.
Nobody wants to pay for and sit through a dense 30-movie franchise anymore. Viewers, whose lives are complicated enough, have zero desire to watch every episode of “WandaVision” to merely comprehend the film “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”
Now, fans are working to stop more misguided universes from proliferating before it’s too late. Look at Mattel. Reportedly, after the enormous success of “Barbie,” the greedy toy company plans to create its own world of overlapping plaything films. The people said: “Kenough!”
Despite obvious audience love for the Margot Robbie movie, when it was announced that Lena Dunham will direct a Polly Pocket picture for the studio starring Lily Collins, social media viciously roasted the project. Because a Mattel Universe is idiotic. Barbie needn’t meet the American Girl dolls like they’re in the “Flintstones/Jetsons” crossover episode.
The box office downturn for unwieldy franchises, while hits such as “Super Mario Bros.,” “Avatar: The Way of Water” and “Barbie” have soared, is a reason to be optimistic that all the flying Spandex and lightsabers could soon be packed away.
For now, however, it’s clear that Disney and WB have overplayed their hands.
There are at least eight more Marvel movies in various stages of production with planned release dates all the way into 2027. In 2020, Disney announced 10 more “Star Wars” TV series for Disney+. And the DC Extended Universe is getting a makeover from new chairs James Gunn and Peter Safran, including five new films and five TV shows.
The question is: Will there be anybody left to watch them?