Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 comes out in just two weeks. Chris Pratt is still riding high from the bonanza success of The Super Mario Bros. Movie, which is only a week or so away from hitting one billion dollars. But he’s already onto the next blockbuster, promoting Vol. 3 in Europe last week with the rest of the cast. A few years ago, I would call the third GOTG movie a no-brainer hit, but now…I’m not sure. Marvel has been inconsistent the last couple years, fan energy seems to be waning, and general audiences might, at last, be getting bored.
The tracking for Vol. 3 is in the $110-130 million range, and while this is a lot of money, Vol. 2 opened with $146 million, so expectations are that Vol. 3 will be a little softer than its predecessor. This might be nothing! Tracking can be wrong, and Disney tends to be conservative with their projections (the better to crow success when they top expectations). But Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania underperformed, as did Thor: Love & Thunder, as did Eternals. Of course, the other side of that coin is Spider-Man: No Way Home clocking $1.9 billion, Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness earning $955 million, and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever making $859 million. Marvel isn’t failing, not outright, not yet.
But it sure feels like something is going on. Fatigue does seem to be setting in. The question is, how deep is the fatigue? Part of the box office story is that several films leading up to Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame overperformed, including the surprise billion-dollar box office of both Black Panther and Captain Marvel. What’s going on now might be a bit of a post-pandemic reset, where some casual fans tap out on the MCU but leave a still sizeable audience capable of cranking out hits, if not the crushing numbers of before.
So there’s a lot riding on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. It’s not just James Gunn closing out his time at Marvel, it’s not just the culmination of these characters’ journey over the last decade, it’s also the very businessy business of figuring out how real is superhero fatigue. (Another key piece will be The Flash, but tracking isn’t available for that yet.) I have always said fatigue won’t set in until good movies start failing. Quantumania was not good, I’m not surprised it underperformed, there was no urgency or word of mouth to support it. But if Vol. 3 delivers, yet it underperforms, well, then we can have a conversation about fatigue. This is a crucial test for Marvel, specifically, and superhero movies, generally. If the Guardians don’t pass, it might just be class dismissed.