The Marvel Cinematic Universe is spiraling out of control, and the franchise is rapidly running afoul of casual fans, hardcore sycophants, and even their own creative teams. With the recent outpouring of announcements and confirmations, the brand's excess threatens to smother itself and die the slow death of every empire in history.
Superhero fatigue has increasingly shifted from a theoretical topic of speculative conversation into a fact of the industry. While Marvel's individual properties continue to be profitable and fans are still unstoppably excited for certain standouts, the big reveals are overwhelming. Maybe the time for the five-year plan was over 10 years ago.
At the recent San Diego Comic-Con, Marvel premiered its iconic timeline map for Phases 5 and 6 for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There were 14 MCU titles on display on a timeline that will last fans until late 2025. Very few of these projects were completely new to the fans, a few were untitled, and a couple OF new arrivals. Perhaps even more interestingly, the Phase 6 map was visibly unfinished. There were at least 8 labeled dates without projects attached, ensuring several other unknown films and TV shows within these couple of years. With at least 22 projects suggested in the upcoming three years, it's impossible to ignore the massive growth of the franchise.
Fans now have the plans for 2022 to 2025, and it contains the 22 upcoming features and the four projects that have already dropped this year. Look back just ten years. From 2012 to 2015, the MCU put out seven films, about 15 hours worth of content. The upcoming three years might genuinely contain upwards of 100 hours of MCU content. Though the runtimes, episode lists, and full list of projected content haven't been revealed yet, that's a conservatively estimated increase of 700%. The year 2022 alone has already eclipsed last decade's period in runtime. Of course, the big shift came with Disney+ and its streaming offerings, which are often quite long. The franchise is constantly putting out more content and its exponential growth makes the early MCU look slack. A fan hoping to keep up would have to consistently donate more and more time to the hobby over the years. The increasingly weighty question that this trend raises is whether that hypothetical fan would continue to bother with it at all.
Marvel's constant growth is a natural side effect of something becoming immensely popular, but it's having a negative impact on every aspect of the franchise. Fans are free to pick and choose which pieces of the universe they're interested in enjoying, but the constant flood of new content makes it harder to pick out the best pieces. Worse yet, dragging the franchise's creative teams through the wringer to make all of this stuff ensures that more of it is worse than ever. More and more fans are starting to feel that the visual elements of the franchise have been falling short when compared to the work they put out a decade ago. Marvel is oversaturating its own market, exhausting its fanbase, alienating anyone unwilling to cut through the noise, and driving its creative professionals to ruin. Fans have to begin genuinely questioning the possibility of the biggest empire in the world of blockbuster cinema growing itself to death.
Countless visual effects professionals have come out to discuss the nightmarish world of working on a Marvel project. They have more money than most nations to put behind a rapidly increasing swarm of films, but they're still eagerly outreaching their limitations. Fans have complained that the VFX quality of the streaming series has been inadequate when adapting fan-favorite characters. With the release of Thor: Love and Thunder, fans are even feeling let down by the franchise-staple blockbusters. Of course, the effects aren't everything, but it's very noticeable when a movie that came out in 2012 looks better than one that came out in 2022. The franchise's overwhelming all-consuming greed isn't just bad for film in general, it's bad for the films themselves. This is the point at which the aspects of the MCU that are art come into direct combat with that which is a product, and the product is winning.
As long as the individual films remain popular, and the merchandise keeps selling, this problem will not slow down. It'll only get worse. Phase Two contained six projects, Phase Three brought out 11, Phase Four will end with fourteen, and Phases Five and Six could have dozens. It's a measurable exponential increase that does nothing but gradually burn through goodwill and risk ruining the entire multiverse experiment. There was always a chance that the Cinematic Universe model would fall apart in the beginning, and even though it seems too big to fail today, every empire reaches a limit. Marvel won't slow down unless it has to, so fans will have to wait and see how this slow-motion rise and decline pays off.