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Disney CEO reveals why he thinks 'The Marvels' bombed at the box office

Bob Iger, speaking at the DealBook Summit in New York, said the media giant prioritized quantity over quality — and the Marvel franchise "suffered greatly."
From left, Iman Vellani, Brie Larson and Carol Danvers in "The Marvels."
Iman Vellani, Brie Larson and Teyonah Parris in "The Marvels."Courtesy of Marvel Studios

The Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger said Wednesday it was a "definite mistake" to increase output from the company's studio division to "feed the streaming platforms," adding that recent Marvel projects "suffered greatly" as a result.

In an interview with financial journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin at the DealBook Summit in New York, Iger said that miscalculation was one of the reasons some of this year's Disney movies, such as "The Marvels," disappointed at the box office.

"Quality needs attention. ... It doesn't happen by accident. Quantity, in our case, diluted quality," Iger said.

"The Marvels" landed with a thud when it premiered this month, opening to just $47 million in North America — the lowest ever for a Marvel film, and a sign that some audiences may be growing weary of the superhero franchise after more than 30 installments.

Iger pointed to other reasons why "The Marvels" floundered in theaters. He said the project was shot during the Covid pandemic and "there wasn't as much supervision on the set ... where we have executives there really looking over what's being done."

Bob Iger, C.E.O. of The Walt Disney Company, speaks at the DealBook summit on Nov. 29, 2023 in New York.
Bob Iger speaks at the DealBook Summit in New York.Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images

"I would say, right now, my No. 1 priority is to help the studio turn around creatively," Iger told Sorkin, a financial columnist at The New York Times (which puts on the DealBook event) and a co-host of CNBC's "Squawk Box."

In the last three years, other Marvel movies have come in below commercial expectations, including the third entry in the “Ant-Man” series. Meanwhile, Disney debuted nine Marvel series on the Disney+ streaming platform, including critical misfires such as “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law.”

Sorkin alluded to two other recent movies that missed box office targets: the fifth entry in the “Indiana Jones” franchise and the animated musical “Wish,” which was released during the Thanksgiving weekend and collected just $31.6 million.

Iger did not offer specific explanations for why those two films underperformed. In general, he said, "we need to get more realistic" about the definition of success amid the rise of streaming and a pandemic-era shift to at-home viewing.

In recent months, Iger has been under immense pressure to strengthen Disney's position in the marketplace and cut costs. The company faces tough headwinds, including slowing subscriptions for Disney+ and the decline of linear broadcast television.

Hollywood has been on rocky footing all year. "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" were big hits, but dual labor strikes scrambled studio balance sheets and prevented actors — such as "The Marvels" star Brie Larson — from promoting their projects.

Iger is on his second tour at Disney. He ran the media conglomerate for 15 years before stepping down from the top job in 2020. He then returned to the Magic Kingdom's throne almost exactly a year ago, replacing his hand-picked successor, the embattled Bob Chapek.

Four years ago, Disney was the undisputed champion of the worldwide box office. Seven of the 10 highest-grossing movies of 2019 came from the company, led by Marvel's “Avengers: Endgame,” which earned a mammoth $858 million in the U.S. and Canada.

In the DealBook interview, Sorkin read a letter said to be written by Walt Disney as he was dying of lung cancer; in the letter, he decried movie sequels. Sorkin asked Iger how the company's namesake would feel about the modern-day studio's reliance on franchises.

"I don't want to apologize for making sequels," Iger replied, before adding that "we've made too many" and "we have to have a reason to make it beyond commerce."

In the future, he added, "we will only greenlight a sequel if we believe the story the creators want to tell is worth telling." By way of example, he mentioned that a fifth "Toy Story" is in the works.

The DealBook Summit is an annual gathering of influential figures in finance, media and politics. Earlier in the day, Sorkin interviewed Vice President Kamala Harris, Warner Bros. Discovery head David Zaslav and JPMorgan Chase chief Jamie Dimon.