Box Office: Will Middling (For Marvel) reviews damage “Thor: Love And Thunder”?
There will usually not be much cause for concern when a large budget franchise offers like Thor: Love and thunder gets “fine” 69% fresh on Rotten tomatoes (with an average critic rating of 6.7 / 10) in the run-up to the opening weekend. Yes, it’s 57% among “top critics”, but more disturbing is that the raw Tomatometer score (which is the percentage of participating critics who rated the film as at least “good”, so a B- is the same as an A +) is among the lowest so far for an MCU movie. It’s just over The incredible Hulk (67% and Marvel’s first direct box office bomb back in June 2008), Thor: The Dark World (66% and now considered one of the very worst MCU movies) and Eternals (the first generally panned Marvel movie with 47% fresh). Will this relatively poor (or at least indifferent) critical reception affect the film’s global box office? In a world before Disney +, I would have argued “absolutely not”. But now, subject to this being *not* a prediction I’m less sure.
Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarök was considered a franchise saver after The dark world. But now he delivers an installment about as “well received” as Alan Taylor’s reviled sequel. Tim Burtons Batman returns (congratulations on the 30th anniversary) received decent reviews and record-breaking opening boxes this weekend, but still came under fire after the debut for its macabre humor, graphic violence and inexcusable kinkiness. Burton was unofficially dumped, and Warner Bros. hired Joel Schumacher to make the camper more family friendly (but still a bit kinky and violent) Batman forever. The film also broke the opening weekend record. It earned more than Batman returns ($ 184 million domestically and $ 336 million globally from a $ 53 million debut to $ 162 million / $ 266 million from a $ 47 million debut) and was considered a franchise savior. Two years later, Batman and Robin (congratulations on the 25th anniversary) was heavily panned and fell 64% weekend two after an opening of $ 43 million. The online geek news industry did not kill the film; the paying audience did. It earned only $ 108 million / $ 237 million and “closed the franchise.”
Yes, the critical consensus was different in 2008 and even in 2013 (when movies the size of Thor: The Dark World was still somewhat unique) than in 2022, both in terms of Marvel’s overwhelming popularity among geocentric critics and their monoculture – like dominance of pop culture. For various reasons, big movie franchise listings tend to get better reviews than they did in the well-known old days (1980s and 1990s). Think in advance of a fan-specific critical establishment and a general upswing in production quality. All due respect, even a “bad” MCU movie like The dark world is miles over 1990 Captain America). Also, the current adults in the room were the children who grew up during the slow normalization of mega-budget tent poles that Independence Day, Jurassic Park and Spider man. That’s also why, to be fair, Keanu Reeves finally gets the respect he deserves, and horror movies tend to be better reviewed than when I was a kid. So, will the mixed reviews affect the box office?
So far the answer is “no”. Disney reports a $ 15.7 million opening day in 17 overseas markets, including Germany, Italy, Australia and South Korea. In “like for like” markets, it has earned 39% more than Thor: Ragnarök (which eventually earned $ 854 million, including $ 115 million in China) and 24% less than Doctor Strange in the multiverse of madness (which did not play in China and still topped $ 950 million globally). And to be clear, a Thor: Love and thunder which collects $ 715 million globally (75% of Doctor Strange 2 without China and Russia) will be a rock-solid hit. Also, most negative reviews still “assure” the audience that it contains much of what you would expect from a Taika Waititi director Thor film. It has campy humor, visual razzle-dazzle, heavy metal needlework, Tessa Thompson is amazing and Chris Hemsworth plays a himbo. However, the overall narrative for even some positive reviews is that it is an insignificant MCU chapter. It’s a “monster of the week” offering, a two-part Disney + episode, as opposed to a status quo-crushing mythology episode.
That would be fine in a world before Disney + (or even a world before Bob Chapek). That may still be the case since audiences who may not be dependent on MCU still really enjoyed it Thor: Ragnarok and may still show up for more of the same. However, those casually interested can see the reviews and (depending on the buzz of the audience) may decide that they can wait 1.5 months to watch the movie “for free” on the streaming service they already pay for. It’s a new variable, one that saw Light year bombing globally, both because it was a “nobody asked for this” solo spin-off origin story about an existing franchise character played by another actor (see also Solo: A Star Wars Story) and because Light year followed three (acclaimed, original, inclusive) Pixar films (Soul, Luca and Turns red) who skipped cinema and premiered at Disney +. Once you’ve acclimatized your audience to watching your big budget tent poles “for free” on a streaming platform (and getting new MCU TV content there), it’s not easy to bring them back to theaters.
It was a mistake to put Sam Raimi on the line Doctor Strange in the multiverse of madness to Disney + after only 45 days. Shang-Chi and Eternals got over / under 70-day windows. Although the film was mostly made at the global box office (and did not fall completely dead after landing on Disney + and PVOD), it signaled that Marvel movies would not be treated differently compared to other Disney movies. There is a huge difference between “this movie will be available for $ 20 in 75-90 days and available for rent for $ 5 in 90-100 days” and “this movie will be available for $ 20 or watch for free on your streaming platform in 45 days. ” This new norm, combined with the relatively average ratings, may not affect the opening weekend, it may affect (even without new live-action child-oriented tent poles between now and Adam replied) post-debut grosser among those generally curious and casually interested. And if that happens, Kevin Fiege will have a tough conversation with Bob Chapek about theatrical windows.