Unveiling Marvel’s Disney Plus Strategy and the Future of the MCU

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At the San Diego Comic-Con in 2019, Kevin Feige unveiled the grand plan for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) Phase 4. At the heart of the announcement was Disney Plus, a streaming service from the Mouse House. The service won’t just serve as a home for the past and future MCU films, but also for the many TV shows that Marvel is developing.

From early announcements, we know that Marvel’s shows won’t be multiple-season long sagas like Agents of SHIELD, The Defenders or Daredevil. Instead, they will be miniseries’, with a handful of episodes. That’s a very interesting and unique strategy, which begs the question – what exactly does Marvel have up its sleeve? 

Where do these shows fit in inside the wider MCU, and what is there exact purpose? Understanding those questions will help us better know what to expect from Marvel in the future, which is indeed very exciting. So, let’s dive in to understand Marvel’s Disney Plus strategy. 

Kevin Feige, MCU
Kevin Feige at the San Diego Comic-Con. Photo by Rob Latour/REX/Shutterstock

The Disney Plus Strategy

Speaking to Variety, Feige said in January – “this expansion into Disney Plus was a part of that from the start. It was the notion of growing and expanding the MCU into this different platform that would allow us to further explore characters that we’ve met before, but hadn’t been able to focus on or spend as much time with as we want to.” 

From his statements and announcements so far, there are a few things that become instantly clear – 

  • Disney Plus will help expand the stories of existing characters
  • The shows will allow Marvel to introduce many new characters

Together, the two ideas lead us to believe that the Disney Plus shows exist for the sole purpose of expanding the MCU. The shows announced so far are pretty much in line with that – WandaVision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, and Hawkeye (existing characters) and Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, and Moon Night (new characters). 

But, it is important to look beyond those announcements to truly understand that the Disney Plus shows serve 2 critical functions – storytelling and profitability. Here’s how that works.

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Upcoming shows on Disney Plus
Marvel’s slate of upcoming shows on Disney+. Source: Geekdad

Storytelling with Disney Plus

This is pretty much in-line with Feige’s statements to date. The Disney Plus shows exist for the purpose of expanding the MCU, and the stories that can be told. The TV shows allow Marvel to build a more wider interconnected universe, introducing us to many side characters we are yet to see. That makes perfect sense, there’s only so many characters you can have in a film. 

Take a look at Avengers Infinity War and Endgame. The movies were some of the longest entrants in the MCU, but still failed to give enough time to key characters like Pepper Pots, Wong, Happy Hogan etc. There’s just no space in a film! But with TV shows, that’s fully possible. It also allows Marvel to develop characters like Barton and Bucky, who have traditionally been linked to the wider team. Now, they get their own space to shine. But, all that is ultimately driven by decisions that make the most sense from a business perspective. 

The Business of Disney Plus

Movie making isn’t cheap. Avengers Endgame reportedly cost around $350 million to make (not including marketing).  With the COVID-19 pandemic still far from over, it is very hard to get that money back in theatres today. That’s why many studios have delayed the release of blockbusters. In the current scenario, there’s just no way to make even a fraction of that money back.

But Marvel’s Disney Plus shows were announced well before COVID, so that reason doesn’t hold much weight. Instead, I believe it was driven by overall declining ticket sales. Deadline reported that sales fell 5% in 2019 over 2018. According to data pulled from Numbers, Wolfstreet noted that ticket sales have been falling for 17 straight years. There’s no denying the reality – streaming was quickly killing the theatres. COVID just accelerated that. 

It’s very likely the team at Disney noticed that. Moving to streaming was clearly part of a long-term survival strategy. For now, Marvel is committed to bringing stories to the big screen, but what those stories are will be driven purely by numbers. Which is where Disney Plus comes in. I believe the service will act as a testing ground for Marvel, to see which characters are popular enough to justify a feature film. 

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I believe that Marvel’s Phase 5 and beyond announcements will be driven purely by which Disney Plus shows are the most popular. Right now, the company is banking on the popularity of its name to draw audiences to films like the Eternals and Shang-Chi, but with a reducing number of theatres, the ability to make Endgame-level profits is very much in doubt. The reality is that the big screen is very much dead. 

A look at the box office collections of Marvel movies as of 07/05/18. Source: MarketWatch

That’s why the Disney Plus shows are vital to the studio. Not only will they bring in and retain new subscribers, but they will help Marvel understand which characters are insanely popular, and deserving of a film. That’s why the company is interested in keeping around its original Avengers. 

Crossing Over to the Big Screen

We’ve heard rumours of RDJ and Chris Evans returning to the MCU, even though they’ve publicly stated they are done. Why would Marvel do that? They are not needed from a storytelling perspective, they could easily tell stories without Tony or Cap, or recast them. The reason is purely based on improving the popularity of the new characters. 

That’s why Marvel’s first TV show projects aren’t focused on new characters, but old ones. Even with new characters, we will see Bruce Banner in She-Hulk. It is also very likely Captain Marvel will make an appearance (though not yet announced) in Ms Marvel, and Tony in Ironheart. These appearances will give fans more reasons to invest their time and emotions in the new characters. Phase 4 of the MCU is still very much a hand-off of the original Avengers to newcomers. And if they are very successful, the shows could lead to movies. 

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Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney Plus
Marvel’s first batch of TV shows like the Falcon and the Winter Soldier focus very much on existing characters. Source: Marvel

That’s why if you carefully look at the announcements so far, most TV shows are just 1 season long. Marvel is very much testing the waters here. There’s a reason the company took so long to bring a female superhero to the big screen – it didn’t seem financially viable till Wonder Women proved otherwise. That’s why Black Widow finally gets her own film now, after Endgame. Her death has fans emotionally invested, and will surely draw crowds to theatres. 

Of course, how well the films do will ultimately depend on how long they run in theatres before showing up on Disney Plus. But knowing Marvel’s love for easter eggs, surprise cameos and hints, we can be sure that the company won’t release films on the same day on both mediums. 

Here’s what the future of the MCU could look like if finances are indeed driving Marvel’s decisions – 

  1. Character shows up in another show
  2. Character gets his/her own show
  3. If successful, character gets his/her own film, if not another season to reevaluate popularity

It does sound like bad news for those of us who love big-screen experiences. But at the end of the day, Marvel’s storytelling is dependent on their financial success. Having nearly gone under in the ’90s, they’ll know the importance of financial stability. There’s no way they will risk it again. So what does that mean for us Marvel fans? Get ready for more Disney+ shows and fewer films, at least for the foreseeable future.

If you enjoyed this article, there’s plenty more Marvel in our TV and movie sections!


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