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The new Hunger Games movie makes a great case for Marvel’s year off from MCU movies

It’s time for the MCU to take a break

Tom Blyth as Coriolanus Snow, dressed in the crisp uniform of a Peacekeeper in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Image: Lionsgate
Austen Goslin (he/him) is an entertainment editor. He writes about the latest TV shows and movies, and particularly loves all things horror.

It’s been eight years since the last Hunger Games movie and, as it turns out, fans were eager to come back for more of Panem’s most brutal game show/mechanism of totalitarian control. The newest entry in the series, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, has put up an impressive box office performance so far, earning well over $100 million and going strong into its third week. But with so many other big IP movies bombing at the box office this year, it begs the question: Are other franchises releasing too many movies?

The most obvious offender here is Marvel, which had November box office news of its own: The Marvels, the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, will become the first movie in the series not to break $100 million at the domestic box office. This is devastating news for Disney. 33 movies into its run, the MCU is the biggest movie franchise of all time, so eventually the company shifted into fire hose mode, putting out as much content as possible.

Since 2017, the studio has committed to pumping out three Marvel movies a year — the only exception to this was in 2020, during the height of the pandemic. And since 2020, the studio has begun putting out several Disney Plus shows set in the MCU as well. And for most of those years, every single movie has been a hit. But fans seem to be getting a little tired of the MCU at the moment.

Jason Schwartzman with handlebar mustache playing Lucky Flickerman, holding a mic in front of the Hunger Games TV in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Images: Lionsgate

Meanwhile, after its hugely successful run of four movies from 2012 to 2015, the Hunger Games basically disappeared. Sure, it was still popular and had plenty of fans, but there weren’t any new additions to the story until series creator Suzanne Collins released a new prequel novel in 2020. The novel was an instant hit, and work quickly began on the movie adaptation, but Lionsgate had the good sense to wait for content worth adapting. And it seems like there won’t be a follow up to this movie unless Collins herself decides to return to Panem for another story.

In an interview with Polygon earlier this year, Hunger Games producer Nina Jacobson explained the studio’s thinking about sequels for the series. “You could have gone with a fan favorite — Let’s do Haymitch’s story! Or do Finnick’s games! — but that would be doing it to do it,” Jacobson said. “If [Collins] had a story in this world with something she wanted to talk about, something to explore, then great. But if not, better to leave a franchise as something people feel fondly about rather than crank out a sequel for the sake of a sequel.”

And while Disney’s probably never going to take such a measured approach to its franchises, it certainly doesn’t seem happy with its current breakneck pace. Disney CEO Bob Iger has recently been making the rounds trying to mitigate that damage to the Marvel brand. He has spent the last several weeks talking about how Disney is going to move toward a focus on quality over quantity, and that one of the major problems with The Marvels was that executives were too busy to give the movie the kind of oversight it needed. Beyond that, Iger has even said that Disney is simply making too much Marvel content between its shows and movies.

Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan, Brie Larson as Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers, and Teyonah Parris as Captain Monica Rambeau stand together in costume, all looking up, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe movie The Marvels Photo: Laura Radford/Marvel Studios

All of this might explain why Marvel is taking 2024 off — basically. Aside from Deadpool 3, the MCU doesn’t have any theatrical offerings slated for next year. It will be Marvel’s quietest year at the movies since Iron Man 2 in 2010. It also only has a few Disney Plus shows, like Echo and Agatha: Darkhold Diaries, which are both spinoffs and possibly part of Marvel’s new Spotlight program, which is meant to mark shows as unrelated to the larger MCU storyline. All of this should add up to the quietest release calendar Marvel has had in over a decade.

And the incredible success of Hunger Games suggests it might be the right play. Aside from an impressive $44.6 million opening weekend haul, it has also hung onto its audience, winning its second weekend in theaters — beating out Disney’s 100th Anniversary celebration movie, Wish.

Of course, just because Marvel doesn’t have movies in theaters doesn’t mean it will be absent from the cultural conversation. Alongside its sparse calendar, the studio also has casting for the Fantastic Four to announce, casting for X-Men to nail down, and maybe even a big change for its ongoing multiverse plot line on the horizon. But at least we’ll get a little space from the main movies in 2024, which might just revitalize some of what made the franchise special to begin with.

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