The MCU holds a 2023 box office record that’s impressive and worrying

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 has been a big winner for the MCU this year, but its success also bears an important warning for Hollywood.

Chris Pratt as Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3

Despite suffering something of a dip, the MCU does have one success story in 2023 thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3’s box office takings. Still, Marvel shouldn’t celebrate too much, as the bigger picture for many studios this year suggests money simply isn’t flowing like it used to.

If ever there was a franchise you could bank on, it’d be the MCU. However, Phase 5 has been a bumpy ride for Marvel Studios, with Ant-Man 3 and Secret Invasion panned critically, and The Marvels struggling at the box office. The Guardians of the Galaxy cast can hold their heads high, though, as the third film in their series is currently the only new movie of 2023 to turn a profit from a budget of $200 million or more.

That’s according to a report from IndieWire, which suggests life has become very difficult for bumper-budget projects. While Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3’s return of $845 million from a reported $250 million budget is enough to set it apart, it still falls short of pre-Covid releases of a similar ilk, which “often grossed over $1 billion worldwide.”

By the time the Aquaman 2 release date arrives, we’ll have had 14 movies in 2023 that are part of the $200 million club: Fast X, Indiana Jones 5, The Little Mermaid, Mission Impossible 7, The Marvels, The Flash, Ant-Man 3, Elemental, Killers of the Flower Moon, Transformers 7, Wish, and Napoleon.

The important thing to remember is, generally speaking, a film needs to bring in around 2.5x its production budget to record a profit. This accounts for the marketing budget you need to add on — flying Tom Cruise around the world isn’t cheap! We’ve covered the math behind this previously, and when you take this into consideration, looking down the list of the highest grossing movies of the year makes for a worrying read.

Looking at one example, Fast X had a production budget of a whopping $340 million. That figure alone is absolutely ludicrous, but thinking about the above rule, the Fast and Furious movie would’ve needed to touch $1 billion to have a shot at breaking even. The $714 million it returned is ultimately a failure, which really begs the question as to why the movie was pulled from theaters so quickly.

Conversely, smaller-budget movies are flying this year. Five Nights at Freddy’s, for example, made a huge $272 million off a $20 million budget. Barbie — though not exactly cheap with a $135 million budget — wound up being the top-grossing movie of the year, earning $1.44 billion at the box office to outdo all the big franchise releases of 2023.

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So, there’s a lesson to be learned here, surely. Yes, hiring big names, creating effective CGI, and blowing things up all cost a lot of money. However, studios have to realize that there’s immense value in mid-budget pictures, and they are a much safer investment to sustain the industry. Just think, if you shave even a tenth off that Fast X budget, Universal would’ve been able to make another Five Nights at Freddy’s. That has to be a no-brainer.

Still, at least we can congratulate Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 for its success, and deservedly so. It’s one of the best movies of the year, and among a messy landscape right now, it gives us a little bit of hope for other upcoming Marvel movies, like Deadpool 3 and Captain America 4. If you’d rather look back at the glory days, you could always watch the Marvel movies in order again.