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Disney in Denial #11: Here we go again:

This is the 11th in a series of posts regarding missteps taken by The Walt Disney Company. You can navigate to Part 10 here.

I suppose it was inevitable that Disney’s approach to filmmaking would become a punchline. In a recent special, South Park parodied Disney’s efforts to replace its male characters with women. The episode made fun of both sides of the issue; but Disney appears to have gotten the worst of it.

On that note, "The Marvels," Disney's latest superhero theatrical release, had a disastrous opening weekend, making less--even before adjusting for inflation--than any Marvel film going all the way back to "The Incredible Hulk" in 2008.

It’s easy to get lost in the politics of this, but, as I have tried to do, let’s look at it from the customers’ standpoint. Over the prior 10 posts in this series, I have documented how, starting with its Star Wars franchise, Disney alienated both male and female audiences by skewing its movies to appeal to women--or at least what its executives thought would appeal to women.

Both in theatres and on Disney+, Disney’s efforts have resulted in fewer viewers and have done nothing to change the gender balance of who is watching. If anything, men have become a higher proportion of the audience. "The Marvels" is no exception.

Deadline tagged the opening night audience at 65% male--with men over 25 being 45% of the audience. No other Marvel or Star Wars film has opened with a higher proportion of men in the audience. This despite a promotional strategy for "The Marvels" that, in part, focused on "female-skewing series," as Deadline put it.

In related news, to the temporary delight of shareholders Disney upped its announced cost-cutting by $2 billion last week. In the same call, Disney’s CEO, Bob Iger declared that Disney’s releases have been plagued by the problem of quantity over quality, promising more of the latter.

Nice to have the problem acknowledged, but the prescription is vague. "The Marvels’" reported production budget was $274.8 million. That’s more than the reported production budgets of the two summer blockbusters, Barbie and Oppenheimer--combined.

So, it’s not as if Disney has been skimping. They've simply lost focus on the need to appeal to the core audiences of their various franchises. Just fourteen short years ago, one of the primary reasons Disney acquired Marvel was to shore up its standing with boys. See this contemporaneous article:

There's a market for TV shows and movies. It has segments. Disney isn't a niche player. It has to cover them all.

Disney's competitors aren’t standing still. Earlier this year Nintendo/Universal/Illumination scored big with audiences (not critics) with its 59% male-skewing "The Super Mario Bros. Movie." Nintendo recently announced an upcoming “Legend of Zelda” movie. Will Universal Parks expand on its existing Mario tie-ins to include this franchise as well?

Disney is resilient, but it will continue to lose ground until its franchises properly cover the market.


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