Ant-Man 3's Massive Box Office Drop Tells Us A Lot About The State Of The MCU

A week ago, things looked pretty good for Marvel Studios and Disney when "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" opened to a stellar $106 million at the box office. This, despite the fact that the movie was met with a very mixed reception from critics and currently has a "Rotten" score on Rotten Tomatoes at just 48%. But audiences showed they care more about the Marvel Cinematic Universe than they do about the opinions of critics, turning up in droves to see Jonathan Majors as Kang, who is the next Thanos-level threat in the franchise.

Unfortunately, that party was short-lived as director Peyton Reed's "Quantumania" suffered the worst second-weekend drop ever for an MCU movie at the box office — and one of the worst for any blockbuster that opened to $100 million or more in history. The film plummeted 69.7% for a $32.2 million haul. The good news? That was still enough to beat Universal's "Cocaine Bear" for the top spot. The bad news? The only movie to open to $100 million or more to have a bigger drop in its second weekend was "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" ($169 million first weekend/$47.4 million second weekend/72% drop).

As far as the MCU goes, "Black Widow" ($80.3 million first weekend/$25.8 million second weekend/67.8% drop) was the previous record holder — and it's a record no movie wants to own. In that case, "Black Widow" was also available to rent through Disney+ Premier Access, which probably helped to explain the drop at the time. "Quantumania" has no such excuse to fall back on, leaving Marvel and Disney with some questions to answer.

Does this hurt Phase 5 of the MCU?

Before digging into more financial prospects and stats, let's discuss what this might mean for the MCU at large. For one, this was the first project in Phase 5, which is all leading to "Avengers: The Kang Dynasty" and, perhaps more importantly, "Avengers: Secret Wars." As anyone who was even vaguely aware of the marketing for "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" was surely aware, Kang made a big, splashy entrance, helping to sell this movie as an "Avengers"-level spectacle to the masses, rather than another smaller-scale "Ant-Man" solo flick. That only helped so much, as evidenced by the second weekend numbers.

The potential problem here is that this movie absolutely did some heavy-lifting and set the stage for much of what's to come. Without getting into spoilers, it was hugely consequential in a way that the previous "Ant-Man" movies were not. However, when all's said and done, it will be very lucky to match "Ant-Man and the Wasp" ($623 million worldwide), despite having a much stronger opening — not to mention a much larger budget somewhere in the $200 million range. Is that going to leave other moviegoers confused as Phase 5 rolls on? Does Marvel have a plan for this? In any event, it's certainly not what Marvel Studios was hoping for.

Moreover, it doesn't seem like "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" is going to touch much on the Kang of it all, nor does it appear the "Secret Invasion" series on Disney+ will be doing so either. Does that mean "Loki" season 2 and/or "The Marvels" have a bigger burden to carry? What about "Captain America: New World Order" or "Thunderbolts"? Again, it feels like "Quantumania" had an important role to play and, so far as the numbers go, it didn't go as well as planned.

The MCU is maybe not as essential for moviegoers as it once was

Outside of the potential confusion that more casual MCU fans may face as Phase 5 continues to unfold, there is a bigger problem that appears to be emerging. While Marvel is still the envy of Hollywood and the king of the box office (generally speaking), there are absolutely signs that general moviegoers are starting to be more choosy about their participation. In Phase 4, which started with "Black Widow" and ended with "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever," "Spider-Man: No Way Home" was the true outlier, taking in more than $1.9 billion globally. It also earned the most favorable reviews the MCU has had since "Avengers: Endgame" in 2019.

That monster hit aside, it's been far more mixed. "Thor: Love and Thunder" (B+ Cinemascore/$760 million worldwide) was not nearly as embraced as "Thor: Ragnarok," (A Cinemascore/$850 million worldwide) for example. "Eternals" ($401 million worldwide/$200 million budget) was a bold swing but, ultimately, a pretty big critical and financial misfire. "Black Widow" failed to cross $400 million thanks to its Disney+ release and resulted in a lawsuit from Scarlett Johansson. Yes, "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" ($952 million) and "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" ($855 million) were big hits, but Phase 4 was unquestionably not as roundly successful as what had come before.

Yes, the pandemic certainly is to blame for some of this, but the critical response and slightly waning fan response cannot be ignored. "Quantumania" has a very poor 48% on Rotten Tomatoes and a middling B Cinemascore. The MCU had enjoyed A- through A+ Cinemascores from "Iron Man" to "Spider-Man: Far From Home," with the exception of the original "Thor." Not to mention that the average second-weekend drop for an MCU movie at the box office was a hefty 64.3% during Phase 4, compared to just 55.2% in Phase 3.

Is it time for a course correction?

The message is clear: general audiences are starting to care less. Yes, Marvel Studios absolutely has to shoulder some blame here as many of the Phase 4 movies were not as well received critically. That is only made all the more complicated by the fact that "Avengers: Endgame" felt like a very big ending to all of this, with the pandemic changing moviegoing habits around the world just as Phase 4 was looking to get underway. That, coupled with the lesser-received films like "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" beginning to stack up, and the cumulative effects are going to be felt.

Is it time to sound the alarm bell just yet? Not really. Disney and Marvel Studios are already hitting the brakes a touch, planning to release fewer MCU shows on Disney+ per year, while delaying "The Marvels" to November in an attempt to go back to a quality over quantity approach. Disney certainly doesn't want to run the risk of burning audiences out on its most reliable financial asset.

The bigger issue could be figuring out how to make sure audiences aren't confused when they do decide to show up for an MCU entry, be it a TV show or a movie. It's clear that the ceiling has been lowered for the time being, and that die hard fans will show up on opening weekend. Beyond that though, things are far less certain than they used to be. That being the case, Kevin Feige and the rest of the Marvel team need to ensure that casual audience members don't run the risk of being further alienated from the "It's all connected" narrative.