From a relative perspective, both in regards to box office numbers and reviews, Marvel Studios has never had a truly bad year. The worst rated movie they have put forth, Thor: The Dark World, still scored a 68% on Rotten Tomatoes, far from the depths seen by Marvel properties produced by other studios. So with that understanding in place, just where does the 2015 Marvel movie slate of Antman and Avenger: Age of Ultron stack up?
In many ways it felt like a down year. Ultron (78% Rotten Tomatoes) did not meet many expectations. It was formulaic, like most of these movies, and was also very derivative of the first Avengers. As for Antman, I think it gets a bad rap, because honestly it was pretty amusing and fun, which is all you need sometimes for a comic book film. I don’t need these on screen adaptions of the comics I read growing up to be dark and dower all the time. The controversy around Edgar Wright leaving gets brought up every single time this movie is reviewed, and that has saddled this film with unnecessary expectation. We don’t know what the Edgar Wright cut would have looked like, so we can’t really say it would have been better.
Perhaps the biggest reason that this year’s Marvel Studios slate of films felt like a let down is because it was, at least in relation to the year prior. In 2014 the superhero genre was redefined by Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: Winter Soldier. These two films combined to bring in almost $600,000,000 at the box office while also registering an average 90% on the tomato meter! True, Ultron alone did $459 million in 2015, but that was a $140 million drop off from the first Avengers. What was so impressive about the 201 slate was how much money they drew in while also creating truly unique and compelling films, that were somehow fully part of the MCU and yet something all their own at the same time.
Continuing to look back, 2013 might actually have been the worst year quality wise, but the outstanding ticket sales for Iron Man 3 still kept the total gross over $600 million. The year before that marked the end of Marvel phase 1 with The Avengers, which at the time had the highest opening weekend ever.
There is an interesting pattern that develops if you look at the total line-up of Marvel Studio offerings going back to the first Iron Man. If you take Iron Man and Iron Man2 as a block, you see a real ebb and flow. The first two Iron Man films preformed really well, and Iron Man was highly regarded and reviewed. The next year, 2011, came Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. Both did fair at the box office (poor by current Marvel standards) and were rated in the 70% range. Next we have The Avengers, loved by all, flaws and all, and setting all kinds of box office records. But then we see another down year (Thor the Dark World and Iron Man3) followed by what I think is the best year (Guardians and Winter Soldier), and then another average year in 2015.
Here is the data (box office rounded to the nearest thousand):
2015: Antman – 180,202,000 – 80% Rotten Tomatos
Ultron – 459,005,000 – 74% Rotten Tomatos
TOTAL: 639,207,000 – 77% Rotten Tomatos
2014: Guardians – 333,176,000 – 91% Rotten Tomatos
Winter Soldier – 259,766,000 – 89% Rotten Tomatos
TOTAL: 592,942,000 – 90% Rotten Tomatos
2013: Thor: The Dark World – 206,362,000 – 68% Rotten Tomatos
Iron Man 3 – 409,013,000 – 73% Rotten Tomatos
TOTAL: 615,375,000 – 70.5% Rotten Tomatos
2012: The Avengers – 623,357,000 – 92% Rotten Tomatos
2011: Captain America – 176,654,000 – 79% Rotten Tomatos
Thor – 181,030,000 – 77% Rotten Tomatos
TOTAL: 357,684,000 – 78% Rotten Tomatos
2010: Iron Man 2 – 312,433,000 – 72% Rotten Tomatos
2008: Iron Man – 318,412,000 – 94% Rotten Tomatos
Of course the real question then becomes, is this pattern one that can be used as a predictor, or did the end of Phase 2 create enough disruption that the pattern will change. I have high hopes for Civil War and Dr. Strange, leading me to believe we will again see a really strong year from Marvel, both in box office numbers as well as quality of material. Beyond this year, however, is anyone’s guess.
What is your favorite Marvel year? Do you agree that 2013 is actually Marvel’s worst year, or was some other time more deserving of the award? Comment below and let’s keep the conversation going.