Elliott Salmon examines the transition in content and anticipation of viewing the Marvel Cinematic Universe from the big screen into your own home.
When Avengers: Endgame was released in cinemas in 2019, it was a global event that without question changed the face of Marvel Cinematic Universe forever. Over 100 million people bought tickets to see Endgame in cinemas which subsequently made it the second highest grossing film of all time. There are videos that are still circulating around social media of Tony Stark’s final line in the movie “And I am Iron Man”, but these videos did not surface online for their movie content. These videos were uploaded all over the world to represent the raw reactions and responses of the devoted fans who were taken aback by the fate of an enormously admired character. Over the years, Marvel movies have only had the cinema as their platform: a place where like-minded strangers could come together and experience the blockbuster releases with surround-sound and the crunch of fresh popcorn. Even as the rise of streaming services stood before Marvel, there had not yet been a threat to the on-screen Marvel Universe no longer being housed by cinemas as a collective ritual of superhero film viewings.
The global pandemic ushered in a new wave of viewership for film and television. Studios were faced with the reality of releasing films without the involvement and presence of cinemas. It was no longer safe for people to sit together in a cinema and watch a movie, a place that all film franchises heavily relied on for years. The cinematic release of Scarlett Johansson’s long overdue solo film, Black Widow, was delayed for months and with those delays came a loss of hope and patience amongst fans who were fed up with being cooped up at home, and were eager to safely return to the cinema. The film eventually made its triumphant release on streaming platforms and in the cinemas around the world back in July. There was excitement no doubt, but the atmosphere had drastically altered. Due to reduced capacity, there were smaller numbers of people attending the screenings for this film. The seats felt emptier making the fandom seem almost worn out. It was as though they had been weathered by a tremendous storm and as a result, lost all sense of the anticipation that accompanied a new release in a franchise. This was suddenly our new reality as cinema enthusiasts. In comparison with the release of Avengers: Endgame, this was no doubt a worrying sight for some. The controversy arrived after the news broke on social media platforms that Black Widow did not achieve a large profit in the box office.
“Marvel’s new era of content allowed for there to be less of a withdrawal from the beloved characters within the franchise and subsequently making the big screen releases feel less far away.”
However, with all the negative reports and concerns over the future of cinema and the threat of box office declines, this situation does not mean that the era of watching superhero films in cinemas is ending. The choice of paying to watch these films on streaming services or attending the cinema to see them on the big screen allows for the introduction of a choice that fans were never provided before. Not to mention the infinite expansion of these stories as they enter the televisual platform, which introduces an even fresher way of viewing the Marvel franchise. Marvel’s new era of content allowed for there to be less of a withdrawal from the beloved characters within the franchise and subsequently making the big screen releases feel less far away. Characters that were yet to receive their own individual spotlight are finally receiving the recognition they deserve.
Speaking of superheroes entering the television world, WandaVision marked Marvel’s first multi-episodic adventure through the realms of weekly streaming on Disney+ earlier this year. Twitter was alight with excitement of waiting for a new episode to drop each week. This was an unusual method of consuming Marvel content. We were no longer watching these characters on screen for less than three hours (if we don’t include endgame of course); we were watching 40–50 minute snippets of them spaced over a set number of weeks. This also allows fans the opportunity to wait until all episodes have been released so they can watch them all at once. Binge-watching is now being accommodated within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Who’s up for another trip around the WandaVision sun? Anyone? As a result of the weekly hype from fans, WandaVision became the most watched television show over the span of a few weeks and, because of its popularity, it has become a global success. Elizabeth Olsen is currently up for her first Emmy award and the entire show itself received 23 overall nominations. A tremendous sweep for a remarkable show.
We mustn’t forget that WandaVision is not the only television adventure that Marvel made. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier followed weeks after WandaVision’s emotional conclusion which was met with praise and excitement. Bucky and Sam Wilson explore the aftermath of a world without Steve Rogers as Captain America, but this show also introduces the passing of a torch. Sam Wilson has taken the shield and is set to return for a fourth Captain America movie. Tom Hiddleston’s beloved villain Loki, the god of mischief, eventually slid his way into the mix and with his arrival he introduced a new pathway of events for the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Multiverse was heavily spoken about and explored throughout the Loki series, and if you look closely at the show’s content, it ties in very well with the next Doctor Strange movie that is scheduled for release in March 2022. Ironically, this film is also set to feature The Scarlet Witch who unleashed her full potential in the eighth and final episode of WandaVision. Marvel’s animated television show What If...? is also currently releasing a new episode every week. This show has brought back many of our beloved superheroes and launched them into other superheroes' shows to examine an alternative universe had events been different. Clint Barton’s character Hawkeye is next to enter the television streaming world and, as expected, is being met with worldwide anticipation and excitement. Marvel is most definitely keeping its fans quenched with content in between the wait for new and continued storyline films as phase four unfolds in a post-Avengers: Endgame universe.
Overall, the future of superhero films is certainly changing. Change can be difficult and especially if you are a devoted fan who has been used to viewing these films in the cinema and only in the cinema and Marvel has certainly experienced a rocky transition into a hybrid viewership era. However, the change of viewership is overall a very positive one. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is expanding in ways we didn’t know were possible. New superheroes are receiving a platform to introduce themselves and familiar favourites are returning with even more brilliant stories to tell. Marvel is also proving that these stories can exist as single episodes as opposed to large spectacle films. Television and film are merging in this extremely popular franchise and are, above all, becoming equals. This is most certainly not the end of superhero films… This is only the beginning.