If Marvel Studios has its way, people will get a new entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe nearly every week.
Everything starts with WandaVision. Marvel’s new nine-episode show, which follows Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff and Paul Bettany’s Vision living out an absurd suburban life in an alternate universe, kicks off on January 15th. Two episodes will premiere, with new episodes releasing every week for the rest of the season. Just two weeks after WandaVision ends, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will arrive. It’s then three weeks until Black Widow hits theaters (unless it’s delayed again) and Loki lands on Disney Plus. By the time Loki ends, it’ll be time for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
You get the picture.
Before Disney Plus launched, Marvel Studios solely worked on films. Television shows fell under Marvel Entertainment’s separate TV division. This includes the Netflix suite of series (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage), shows on Hulu (The Runaways), and ABC titles like Agent Carter and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s what kept the Marvel Cinematic Universe separate from everything else, even if those events were referenced. When Disney Plus came along, everything got shuffled. Disney needed new Marvel shows to bring in subscribers and keep them (like The Mandalorian did). Jeph Loeb, former head of Marvel TV, was effectively ousted as everything came under Marvel Studios chief and MCU architect Kevin Feige.
Under Feige, the MCU is now expanding. The various shows and films will interweave with one another. WandaVision will feature characters from Thor, Ant-Man, and Captain Marvel and will connect somehow to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. While former Disney executives told The Verge that viewers won’t need to watch every movie or show to keep up, the strategy is designed like comics — references made to events that happened elsewhere that fans may want to watch to understand the full context.
Depending on people’s opinions of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, having a new Marvel thing each week is either a blessing or a curse. The question is when does it tip into oversaturation? Some people may feel like we’ve hit that point. While studios and networks are making more movies and TV shows than ever before (including outside the superhero genre), few things dominate the box office and conversation like Disney properties, most notably Marvel and Star Wars. Ushering in a never-ending wave of Marvel TV series, on top of three or four films a year, could be what tips the world over into total franchise fatigue.
Except it likely won’t. Franchise fatigue is a popular phrase that gets thrown around, but it’s ultimately flawed. Superhero movies remain some of the biggest box office successes that drive people to theaters at a time when US audiences are, on average, attending fewer movies a year. In China, Marvel movies remain some of the best performing films made by US studios, and the Chinese box office is the second largest box office demographic. This isn’t to imply that Marvel movies are the be all, end all of film (far from it), but mainstream audiences aren’t tired of them. Prior to Infinity War and Endgame, entries like Black Panther and Captain Marvel drove some of the MCU’s largest successes — and those were new characters within the MCU, not Captain America. The audience demand hasn’t disappeared.
Marvel Studios and Disney’s more pressing concern isn’t franchise fatigue — it’s trust. Think about Star Wars. With the exception of Solo, each Star Wars film released over the last five years has performed exceptionally well, but critical opinion of the films has soured. People argued The Force Awakens is just a remake of A New Hope, The Rise of Skywalker is consistently dunked on, The Last Jedi sits at the center of its own ongoing debate, and Solo feels like two movies mashed into one messy affair.
Productions were plagued by directors and writers being fired, with Disney rushing to get out a Star Wars film a year, leaving little room for proper rewrites. Disney arguably lost the trust from fans over its ability to make consistently good Star Wars movies — or, as analyst and venture capitalist, Matthew Ball, says, it’s “accrued disappointment.” Disney tried to rush everything. It didn’t seem like there was a 10-year plan for Star Wars. Marvel Studios’ greatest asset is that Feige was able to archetype what the universe should look like. It’s not exactly quality over quantity — they keep making more MCU movies every year — but quantity without losing the overarching story thread.
Ironically, Star Wars also points to how having more Marvel can still work. Like Rogue One before it, The Mandalorian succeeds because it’s familiar but stands on its own. It’s obviously Star Wars, and there are enough references to key Star Wars figures and moments that diehard fans can dig into the nitty-gritty. It’s also new and unique enough, however, to not feel like a rushed entry in a universe that generates a ton of money for Disney. The Mandalorian’s creators, Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni, were given time to figure it out.
By all accounts, WandaVision is in the same boat. The characters are familiar, but the show is so different from anything within the MCU that it hopefully feels entirely refreshing. Keeping people’s trust and avoiding accrued disappointment is playing to streaming’s opportunity. Experimentation should be encouraged. If it works, the opportunity for success and ongoing profitability has no ceilings.
If it doesn’t, it’s more forgivable on a streaming service, where people are paying monthly for new content on top of their favorite films and TV shows. It’s not the same as paying $10 or more for a movie ticket or tens of millions of dollars in losses for Disney. Reserve safe bets for big, splashy tentpole movies that more than return on the original investment and marketing campaign; experiment on Disney Plus where people are looking for something to satiate their appetite.
Streaming’s main pitfall is thinking because there’s a monthly demand from subscribers that speed is a priority. Consistency is, but consistency also means quality and originality — especially with properties like Marvel and Star Wars. The stakes are higher; there’s a precedent for great, a precedent for awful, and a hungry fan base that will only accept sub-par movies or TV for so long.
The good news is that Marvel Studios just needs to keep doing what it’s already doing. Feige — an architect who designs Marvel storylines a decade in advance, figuring out how to make a giant universe feel tangible and new — is now in charge of ensuring that same level of attention gets applied to the Disney Plus world. We’re about to enter a period where there will constantly be a new piece of Marvel Studios content. It sounds exhausting — but it doesn’t have to be.