Workaholics and Pitch Perfect star Adam Devine blames the fall of theatrical comedies on the rise and popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its genre-bending blockbusters. While the MCU has had deep roots in comedy going back to its first movie – 2008’s Iron Man – the sprawling cinematic universe has leaned even farther into delivering laughs since. While not every project is full of levity (Eternals and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, for instance, are recent examples of more straight-laced works), it’s difficult to deny that Marvel Studios has shifted the landscape of what hits the big screen.
Speaking on This Past Weekend, Devine discussed why it’s seemingly rarer to find low and mid-budget comedies playing at movie theaters amid the impressive slate of Marvel movies releasing each year. According to him, the MCU’s lean into humor is not only different than more traditional comedy scripts but also affects what audiences expect and are willing to spend money on at the theater.
There’s little doubt that the MCU has changed the face of big-budget humor and that smaller, more “traditional” comedies have become more rare on the big screen, but whether or not Marvel actually “ruined” the genre is much more up for debate. Box office data site The Numbers does show that there is credence to the idea comedies are making less at the box office. Despite making up a fairly steady percentage of total gross from the mid-1990s (when the data starts) until around 2008, that total begins a multi-year decline from then – the same year Iron Man released – on.
2022 marked a low point for comedies, with the genre (which doesn’t count MCU projects for this data set) only making up a small 3.87% of total box office earnings. However, the trend isn’t unbreakable. The incredible success of Barbie, which has already crossed to $1 billion dollar mark, has shot comedies back up to 13.78% market share – the highest since 2013’s 14.88%.
Indeed, individual comedies still have the potential for success. Though big-budget spectacles may play a role in the decline of the theatrical comedy, they seem more like another symptom than the root cause of any problems. Indeed, it’s more likely that other concerns have lowered mid and low-budget comedy viewership in theaters – namely, skyrocketing ticket prices and the proliferation of high-quality televisions and home theaters. As streaming services have risen, comedies have found a “safer” way to reach audiences while cutting out the middle-man. However, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe no longer the consistent critical darling it once was, perhaps traditional comedy will once again have its time to shine.