The Super Mario Bros. Movie has soundly defeated the third Ant-Man movie at the box office.
Eight weeks after Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania arrived in theaters, the film set up to launch phase five of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has brought in $474 million. While that’s probably enough to make the movie profitable, it’s definitely not the result Disney was hoping for. In the meantime, Deadline reports that The Super Mario Bros. Movie has made $659 million in just two weeks — giving rise to the question of whether the age of the superhero film is coming to a close.
With The Super Mario Bros. Movie on track to beat every Disney animated movie ever made and Avatar: The Way of Water becoming the third-highest-grossing film of all time, it’s clear that people are going to theaters again. What’s also clear is that audiences just don’t seem to care about superhero films the way they used to. On top of Quantumania‘s disappointing returns, Shazam! Fury of the Gods flopped, and even the much-anticipated Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is expected to make less on its opening weekend than its predecessor.
In some ways, the fact that The Super Mario Bros. Movie has succeeded where superhero movies have failed is a breath of fresh air. Since the original Iron Man was released in 2008, superheroes became a larger and larger part of pop culture — a period of rapid growth that reached its peak when Avengers: Endgame broke the record for the highest-grossing movie of all time. That success, which came after 11 years of worldbuilding, was certainly deserved — but audiences can only take so much of the same thing before they start to wonder what else is out there.
The decline in superhero profits after Endgame was initially blamed on the Covid-19 pandemic keeping people out of theaters — and it’s not like they were wrong. Barely anyone was going to the theaters in 2020 or 2021, and if The Super Mario Bros. Movie had been released during that time frame, it’d be lucky to make a third of its current windfall. But in 2022, movies were on the upswing — but in 2023, it looks like superhero movies are falling right back down again.
It doesn’t appear that the rest of the industry is slumping alongside the superhero genre. Analysts are expecting there to be a 22% jump in box office receipts in 2023 when compared to 2022 — even as the returns from superhero films appear to be falling. This implies that, while the success of The Super Mario Bros. Movie and Avatar: The Way of Water is impressive, they also reflect an industry that is on the mend after completely falling apart in 2020.
None of this means that superhero movies will stop being successful, and we can certainly expect to see Marvel and DC movies released in theaters for years to come. But we do appear to be at a turning point in the movie industry, when a dominant force in pop culture is starting to turn into just another genre. Whether or not The Super Mario Bros. Movie will herald the rise of another genre is anyone’s guess.