Why Iger Needs a New Approach to Marvel Output

Bob Iger
Variety Intelligence Platform

Disney CEO Bob Iger didn’t mince words Thursday at Morgan Stanley’s Technology, Media & Telecom Conference when it came to addressing former CEO Bob Chapek’s reorganization in 2020. 

Iger highlighted what he viewed as a “disconnect” while discussing Disney’s streaming business, saying that while the service grew due to “the strength of the content,” there needs to be a stronger link between “what’s being spent and what’s being earned … from a revenue perspective.” 

Marvel and Lucasfilm deserve a lot of credit for the success of Disney+, but the cost of content for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and “Star Wars” has been a big contributor to Disney’s direct-to-consumer losses. Examine the track records of these two brands, and there’s a clear difference Iger needs to appreciate.

Since the release of the first “Avengers” film in 2012, which earned $1.5 billion globally, seven additional MCU films distributed by Disney were billion-dollar grossers, with 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame” the No. 2 worldwide grosser in history.

“Endgame” was also the last MCU film from Disney to surpass $1 billion. Since the pandemic, the only MCU film to become a billion-dollar grosser was Sony’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which took in nearly $2 billion, a big jump from the $1.1 billion 2019’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home” grossed after “Endgame.”

Only four of Disney’s “Star Wars” films hit that mark. But that’s out of five total, as opposed to the 23 MCU films Disney has released.

Even with mixed reviews, 2019’s “The Rise of Skywalker” still brought in almost $1.1 billion, slightly more than “Rogue One,” one of two standalone films separate from the new trilogy, did in 2016.

“Solo,” the other lone film, made less than $400 million globally in 2018.

“Maybe the cadence was a little too aggressive,” said Iger on “Solo” while discussing the care Disney needs to exercise in its content spend.

Still, “Star Wars” transitioned mediums successfully after “The Rise of Skywalker,” with four series having since debuted on Disney+. Flagship series “The Mandalorian” and “Rogue One” prequel series “Andor” are the standouts out of four live-action series in total that have streamed, the former having just premiered its third season. Unlike “The Book of Boba Fett” and “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” “Andor” has another season in the works.

By contrast, Disney+ has seen seven live-action MCU series debut since 2021, with the eighth, “Secret Invasion,” due in 2023. Only one series, “Loki,” has a second season on the way. Just as many MCU films have played in theaters during this period, as opposed to zero “Star Wars” films.

Given that a core function of the MCU’s highest-grossing films is sticking a ton of different heroes together at once, to the delight of fans, Iger is right to be critical of the number of shows devoted to Marvel characters, nearly all of them supporting cast for the bigger heroes in the films.

As Iger put it Thursday, he is scrutinizing “how often we go back to the well with certain characters” and how many sequels each franchise truly needs.

Now that “Avatar” is back, with the first of four new sequels having done far better at the global box office than Disney’s best MCU film post-pandemic, it’s high time for Disney to figure out a more practical and monetizable model for Marvel.