Director Peyton Reeds’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania certainly didn’t disappoint in its domestic box debut, with the film flying to a four-day opening of $120 million, one of the best showings ever for the Presidents Day holiday and by far the biggest start for Marvel’s low-key franchise.

Yet the third installment of the Paul RuddEvangeline Lilly series is still a cautionary win for Marvel Studios and Disney, which are at a critical juncture as Marvel kicks off Phase 5, and conquering hero Bob Iger returns as Walt Disney Co. CEO. With a 47 percent rating, the film is tied with Eternals (2021) for Marvel’s lowest Rotten Tomatoes score, and perhaps more telling, it earned a B CinemaScore from audiences, one of the few Marvel titles to do so.

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Since the first Iron Man ushered in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008, Kevin Feige’s Marvel Studios has been the envy of Hollywood. The MCU is the highest-grossing film franchise of all time with more than $28.5 billion in worldwide ticket sales, led by the marquee Avengers franchise. 

Through the years, MCU movies have almost always drawn glowing CinemaScore grades from audiences, with nearly 70 percent of titles earning an A CinemaScore from audiences, or some variation thereof (A+, A and A-).

That has been changing in recent years. Of the five films with a B or a B+ (none have earned a B- or below) four are among Marvel’s most recent six pics. Among the recent batch, Quantumania and Eternals rank lowest with a B, while 2022 entries Thor: Love and Thunder and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness each received a B+. (The first Ant-Man earned an A CinemaScore and the second received an A-.)

The fifth MCU movie to earn a CinemaScore in the B range was 2011’s Thor (B+). Put another way, the next 21 MCU films following Thor all landed in the A category.

It’s a concerning stat that comes after Marvel released a head-spinning 18 projects theatrically and on streaming during Phase 4, which spanned 2021-22. 

“You have to start worrying about Marvel franchise fatigue,” says one rival studio executive.

As Phase 5 begins in earnest, Marvel is taking steps to slow down its output, pushing The Marvels out of summer and into November, and spreading out its TV shows. Next up is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, due out May 2.

CinemaScore is old-guard in that the Las Vegas-based company polls select theaters across the country on a Friday night, but the score is still monitored carefully by Hollywood studios. PostTrak, a more recent invention, polls a hundreds of cinemas across the country. Ant-Man 3 did receive solid exit scores on PostTrak, according to those with access to the data. And its audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is in par with the first two films, or 80 percent, compared to 84 percent for the first installment and 85 percent for the second.

The big test will be to see how much the film drops in its second weekend. Last summer, Thor: Love and Thunder fell nearly 68 percent after drawing a B+ CinemaScore.

ComScore box office analyst Paul Dergarbedian notes the Marvel brand still holds a lot of sway “despite the many protestations about the execution of Phase 4,” and that fans wanted “to see the first step on the path for Phase 5 and hopes for even better and bigger things to come for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.”

The marketing for Quantumania focused on Jonathan Majors’ villain Kang, inviting audiences to “witness the beginning of a new dynasty” — a nod to the Kang-focused Avengers: The Kang Dynasty that is dated for May 2, 2025. Majors was considered a highlight of the film, winning over audiences and critics.

A fourth installment of Ant-Man isn’t out of the question, and even rival studio execs think Ant-Man 3 could approach $700 million globally (one sore spot is China, where it got off to a dismal start with $19.2 million). In 2015, the first Ant-Man launched to $57.2 million domestically over its first three-day weekend — the lowest start of any MCU offering — on its way to earning $519.3 million globally. Three years later, Ant-Man and the Wasp started off with $75.8 million in North America before topping out at $622.7 million worldwide. Quantumania’s three-day haul was $105.5 million, a nearly 40 percent jump from its predecessor.

While Quantumania may not have hit with critics, the turnout suggests that poor reviews did not hamper attendance.

“While critical success is great to have, it’s a secondary factor compared to what the broader consumer base paying for movie tickets thinks,” says chief analyst Shawn Robbins of Boxoffice pro. “That’s perhaps more true for a movie like this, which appeals to families.”

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