15 Marvel Movies That Flopped at the Box Office

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The renowned Marvel brand has become a synonym for success in the film industry, but it hasn’t always been like that. Before the MCU managed to hit successful numbers and turn the big screen experience into memorable spectacles, superhero movies hadn’t always performed so well in theaters.

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Even now, after a series of profitable runs and Avengers: Endgame standing out as the second highest-grossing movie of all time, the MCU appears to be tripping over its own feet. The cinematic universe’s Phase 5 shows clear signs of superhero fatigue among audiences, raising doubts about whether this might be the end of MCU’s progress. In the meantime, let’s look at 15 Marvel movies that flopped at the box office.

15 Punisher: War Zone (2008) — $10 Million

Lionsgate

Punisher: War Zone is an obvious case of not learning from past mistakes, or failing to give them time to breathe. Only four years after the failure of The Punisher, the infamous anti-hero returned to the big screen for an even worse theatrical run. Ray Stevenson steps up as the new Frank Castle, who engages in a war against mob boss Billy ‘Jigsaw’ Russot as an army of one.

Marvel’s Biggest Flop

To this day, Punisher: War Zone remains Marvel’s biggest box office bomb, grossing only $10 million out of a $35 million budget. The movie does justice to the ultraviolent appeal of Punisher’s comics and is by no means a terrible movie, but the numbers reached by the first movie had already shown a clear indication of lack of interest from the audience. Rent on AppleTV

14 Howard the Duck (1986) — $16 Million

howard the duck
Howard the Duck

Release Date
August 1, 1986

Director
Willard Huyck

Runtime
110

Not to be mistaken for Donald Duck, Howard the Duck was a fairly popular Marvel character during the ’70s and ’80s, and the film adaptation of the heavy smoker and ill-tempered duck had none other than Star Wars‘ George Lucas as executive producer. The movie follows Howard’s satirical adventures on Earth after he’s transported to the human-dominated planet against his will.

Jokes That Didn’t Land

Despite having big names on board, the film’s sarcastic tone didn’t work well with younger audiences or adult viewers. Howard the Duck was cheesy in a negative way, and the absurd jokes just didn’t stick the landing like they did in the comics. The promise of a $37 million budget paid off even less, as the movie ended up grossing only $16 million worldwide. Rent on AppleTV

13 The Punisher (2004) — $54 Million

Movie Picture
The Punisher

Release Date
April 15, 2004

Director
Jonathan Hensleigh

Cast
A. Russell Andrews , Omar Avila , James Carpinello , Mark Collie , Russell Durham Comegys , Antoni Corone

Runtime
124

The first time The Punisher was adapted to the big screen was in 1989; a shamelessly hard-boiled piece of fiction with a stylish approach. The reception wasn’t warm, but time made the movie good. 2004’s The Punisher is, however, a whole different story. The movie goes through the origins of Frank Castle’s thirst for revenge, triggered by the assassination of his family at the hands of organized crime.

All Too Familiar

The film is attached to a lingering gloomy atmosphere and outbursts of violence, but it spends too much time on a well-known story before jumping into creative storytelling decisions. At the end of the day, it didn’t even manage to pay the bills, making $54 million out of a $33 million budget. Rent on DIRECTV

12 Elektra (2005) — $56 Million

Elektra
Elektra

Release Date
January 13, 2005

Director
Rob Bowman

Runtime
97

Jennifer Garner is confirmed to be returning as Elektra in Deadpool 3, and one can expect plenty of jokes about her movie’s extremely poor reception. 2005’s Elektra was a genuinely awkward piece of filmmaking, following the eponymous indomitable warrior fighting off a group of supernatural assassins.

A Worse Disaster Than Daredevil (2003)

The movie is, essentially, a spin-off from 2003’s Daredevil, which went far from having a profitable theatrical run to begin with, grossing $179 million out of a $78 million budget. It showed promise though, except that Elektra turned out to be an even greater disaster in terms of critical reception and numbers, grossing just a bit over $10 million more than its budget. Stream on Max

11 Blade: Trinity (2004) — $131 Million

Ryan Reynolds as Hannibal King, Wesley Snipes as Blade, and Jessica Biel as Abigail Whistler in Blade: Trinity
New Line Cinema

Blade: Trinity was a huge fall-off in quality, abdicating all the creative elements introduced by Guillermo del Toro in the 2002 sequel and replacing him with David S. Goyer, a much less experienced filmmaker. In the film, Blade falls into the hands of the FBI and must rely on a group of unexpected allies that need his help to stop an ancient source of evil.

Too Many Ideas

Thematically, there were plenty of interesting concepts to be explored in Blade: Trinity, from the clan of vampire hunters known as Nightstalkers to Dracula, the ultimate vampire, joining Blade’s quest. For a movie overflowing with ideas, all of them are executed with the least amount of enthusiasm, resulting in a box office bomb that disrupted the crescendo of Blade‘s two previous movies. Rent on AppleTV

Related: The 10 Highest-Grossing Film Directors of All Time

10 Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011) — $132 Million

Ghost Rider is one of Marvel’s most absurd characters: an ordinary stunt cyclist who sells his soul to a demon and becomes the spirit of vengeance, forced to condemn the wicked souls that rule over the world. Driving around in skeletal form with a motorcycle burning in flames, he turns into an anti-hero fighting hell on Earth.

All Over the Place

The movie adaptations do justice to the madness of the story, but the sequel, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, feels chaotically all over the place. With Ghost Rider being just the type of character Nicolas Cage would be willing to play, his movie star status did help the movie to reach its intended audience twice, making $132 million out of a $57 million budget. However, both the first movie and the sequel numbers resulted in a break-even situation, eliminating the possibility of a third film. Rent on AppleTV

9 Fantastic Four (2015) — $167 Million

There’s an argument to be made that the 2015 reboot of Fantastic Four is the biggest stain in Marvel’s long list of movie adaptations, failing in every possible aspect, including box office results. The movie introduces a new fantastic quartet played by talented up-and-coming movie stars, such as Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, and Jamie Bell. However, not even a promising cast can save a movie like that.

Too Expensive for What It Became

The powers of each character are so deplorably explored that it’s difficult to feel the slightest thrill in the action sequences. In addition, Fantastic Four looked bizarrely awful, with a grey-looking palette taking over the film in its entirety. It doesn’t feel like a $120 million movie at all, and even its disastrous $167 million gross feels undeserving in the face of the messy end result. Stream on Max

8 The Marvels (2023) — $206 Million

Read Our Review

Talks of superhero fatigue taking over the film industry have been going on ever since the beginning of the MCU’s Phase 4. The new generation of superheroes never quite managed to sustain the emotional impact of the Infinity Stones saga and the farewell to fan-favorite characters.

The MCU’s Lowest-Grossing Movie

However, The Marvels was a long-awaited payoff to the events of Captain Marvel, which earned over $1 billion at the box office, and the Disney+ TV show Ms. Marvel. The payoff: MCU’s lowest-grossing movie of all time. More and more, the MCU appears to be relying too much on anticipation than execution. Its latest movies fail to create an emotional attachment between the heroes and the audience, and they barely move the narratives forward. Nothing that an Avengers movie can’t fix, as has been the case in earlier phases, but at the moment, The Marvels does feel like a dangerous ultimatum.

7 Hulk (2003) — $245 Million

hulk
Hulk

Release Date
June 19, 2003

Runtime
137

Before the MCU introduced its own Hulk in 2008, the green warrior made an underwhelming appearance on the big screen in 2003. Hulk goes through the origins of the massive hero, introducing a troubled Bruce Banner, played by Eric Bana, trying to come to terms with a radioactive incident that causes him to transform into a monster when he’s angry.

High Gross, but a High Cost

Directed by the legendary Ang Lee, who had previously showcased his talent for action in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 2003’s Hulk has its share of sympathizers. While the special effects didn’t age well, the drama surrounding Banner still delivers an emotional impact. Too bad the movie only earned $245 million out of a weighty $137 million budget.

6 Dark Phoenix (2019) — $252 Million

The X-Men franchise faced plenty of ups and downs, but whenever it showed signs of deterioration, it would miraculously find a way to stand on solid ground once again. It was the case with X-Men: First Class, which didn’t hit high numbers, but relied on positive reviews to set up a box office hit that would follow (X-Men: Days of Future Past). In that sense, X-Men: Apocalypse set the ground for an epic final battle by gathering the most powerful mutants against a common threat, and hit $543 million worldwide despite divisive reviews.

Ending on a Low Note

Hoping to improve everything that went wrong with Apocalypse and market Dark Phoenix as the X-Men‘s Avengers, Fox’s farewell to the X-Men was a painful end to the first superhero cinematic universe created. It hardly lived up to the amount of money put in it: $200 million that turned into a pitiful $252 million worldwide, a catastrophic number for those who wished to see more about the mutants in the near future.

Related: X-Men: Where the Cast of the Original Movie is Today

5 The Incredible Hulk (2008) — $264 Million

The Hulk roars as fires blaze behind him
Universal Pictures

Before the MCU became the market giant that it is today, finding the right tone and creative voice for its superhero cinematic universe proved to be harder than anticipated. The Incredible Hulk was the official follow-up to Iron Man, introducing Edward Norton as a desperate Bruce Banner trying to evade the government while struggling to find a cure for the green monster he carries within, which goes berserk when Banner gets angry.

Behind-the-Scenes Drama

Although the movie relies on a string of intense action moments featuring the Hulk, little about Norton’s delivery of a tormented Banner stands out; no wonder he ended up getting replaced by Mark Ruffalo due to creative differences. With the superhero fever still underwhelming at the time, it came as no surprise that the forgettable The Incredible Hulk barely managed to pay its bills. Stream on Disney+

4 X-Men: First Class (2011) — $352 Million

X-Men: First Class was a shot in the dark by 20th Century Fox; in an attempt to keep the franchise alive while trying to make fans forget X-Men: The Last Stand, they decided that the best alternative was to go back a few decades in the past. Set in 1962, the movie goes through the origins of Professor X and Magneto, following their turbulent relationship and the events that cause them to go separate ways and become archenemies.

An X-Men Movie Without Wolverine

X-Men: First Class gives up on important characters such as Wolverine, Storm, and Jean Grey in favor of a more grounded narrative against the backdrop of the Cold War. The movie hit all the right notes, but not the right numbers: it grossed roughly two times its budget worldwide, a seemingly successful feat that doesn’t compensate for the money invested in marketing an X-Men movie without Wolverine. Stream on Hulu

3 Black Widow (2021) — $379 Million

black widow
Black Widow

Natasha Romanoff confronts the darker parts of her ledger when a dangerous conspiracy with ties to her past arises. Starring Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh.

Release Date
July 9, 2021

Runtime
2hr 14min

Read Our Review

Strangely, the MCU movie chosen to open Phase 4 is a movie about a character that dies in Phase 3; not exactly the best timing for an origin story. Black Widow is supposed to be a farewell to Scarlett Johansson, and it surely is at its best moments when the narrative is centered around her character, but the movie also spends a good chunk of its runtime introducing her spiritual substitute, Yelena Belova.

COVID-19 Was to Blame

Additionally, Black Widow was released at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic: there’s merit to its numbers, and demerit for its lack of sensibility to the tragedy the world found itself in. The film was simultaneously released on Disney+ though, which only stirred more controversy among the people involved in the project. It was a fairly decent catalog addition, but it earned only $379 million from a $288 million budget. Stream on Disney+

2 Eternals (2021) — $402 Million

eternals
Eternals

Release Date
November 5, 2021

Runtime
2hr 36min

Read Our Review

Eternals was supposed to be an inclusive and sensitive piece of filmmaking by the MCU, bringing a Chinese-born woman to direct the first MCU movie with an openly gay character and a greatly diverse cast. The movie follows a group of ancient aliens living on Earth, stepping up to save the civilization they helped raise from the ashes.

An Auteur’s Vision Versus a Studio’s Formula

Chloé Zhao’s beautiful creative vision is both the best and worst thing about Eternals because most of her filmmaking trademarks end up getting swallowed by a ready-made formula crafted by studio executives. There’s too little of her in the film, and the unfair backlash from die-hard Marvel fans who called the movie “woke” didn’t do Eternals any good either. It made only $402 million out of an ambitious $236 million budget. Stream on Disney+

1 Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023) — $476 Million

Read Our Review

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania offered the first hints at the MCU at its lowest ebb, opening Phase 5 with an underwhelming reception and an alarming theatrical run. It is the third Ant-Man movie, this time bringing the hero and his faithful partner to the depths of the Quantum Realm, a universe located outside of time and space that harbors important secrets.

An Expensive Movie That Looked Cheap

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is the kind of movie that prompts the audience to wonder where all of Marvel’s money is going. The movie reportedly had a budget of roughly $200 million, and it looks like a B-superhero movie made for TV. For a movie set in a completely different dimension, there’s little effort to give substance to the unaccountable. Stream on Disney+

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