Disney has attributed its recent blows at the box office to a decline in quality caused by growth in the streaming industry.
“The Marvels”, the latest offering by Marvel–long considered the crown jewel of Disney’s assets–pulled in $47 million in its opening weekend, the lowest debut for a Marvel property in the studio’s history. February’s Ant-Man: Quantumania, the third movie in the Ant-Man franchise, earned a respectable box office showing but suffered from complaints of lackluster special effects and haphazard storytelling.
“We increased our output tremendously to feed the streaming platforms too much. Definite mistake,” said Disney CEO Bob Iger at the 2023 DealBook Summit in New York City. “Quality needs attention… It doesn’t happen by accident. Quantity, in our case, diluted quality. And Marvel suffered greatly from that.”
To keep pace with viewers accustomed to streaming movies from home, Disney has ramped up productions to fill its streaming platform, resulting in a noticeable quality decline and a diminished box office for Marvel and other Disney properties.
Iger called helping Marvel regain its creative footing his “number one priority.”
The CEO also discussed the ways that streaming has made home-viewing a more convenient proposition, disincentivizing the movie-going experience and contributing to the company’s box-office woes.
Connecting a streaming-era incline in demand for Marvel output with a resulting decline in quality is an accurate assessment, according to Dave Heger, a senior analyst at Edward Jones.
“I think that the weakness in recent box office results for Marvel movies likely reflects too much focus on quantity over quality,” he said. “Disney creatives may have been spread too thin trying to develop numerous Marvel storylines for both theaters and streaming.”
The company’s box-office and quality troubles extend well past Marvel. 2023’s live-action remake of the Little Mermaid earned middling reviews and made $569.6 million, a far cry from the billion dollar mark that some of the company’s other live action remakes, such as The Lion King and Aladdin, cleared in 2019. Wish, an animated film that premiered over Thanksgiving weekend at $31.6 million, fell short of estimates and continued the company’s string of disappointing returns.
In his conversation with DealBook founder Andrew Ross Sorkin, Iger sought to reframe Disney’s struggles as an example of the company’s supremacy.
“Year after year after year, we had the best performance in the business, probably for a decade,” he said. “And I’m not sure another studio…will ever achieve some of the numbers that we achieved.”
While the streaming industry has negatively affected Disney’s reign of box-office domination, Iger stipulated that the technology has also altered the metrics of success with which a movie should be measured. Millions of viewers, especially those with young children, have turned to Disney+, the company’s streaming platform, as a more convenient, affordable option for entertainment than the traditional theater experience.
A prime example of this is Elemental, a recent film from Disney’s Pixar, which earned only $29.6 million in theaters in its debut month, before going on to be viewed, to date, over 50 million times on Disney+.
“I think for any family with kids under the age of 10, Disney+ tends to be a must have,” said Geetha Ranganathan, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence.
Ultimately, streaming has altered audience expectations of what makes a movie worth shelling out for a $20 ticket, and Iger feels that Disney and other studios must act accordingly.
“The experience of accessing [movies] and watching them in the home is better than it ever was,” Iger said. “The bar is now raised on what gets people out of their homes and into movie theaters.”