Just In!! Madame Web Bombs, Will Hollywood Ever Learn Its Lesson?

It was a rough 2023 for the film industry, and 2024 isn’t starting off much better after Sony’s Madame Webb became the latest superhero film to flop. And on the heels of The Marvels, it raises significant questions about the direction Hollywood is going, and just how far it’s willing to let political activism be a driver. 

Madame Webb effectively exemplifies what the modern film business wants to do with its releases; hit its representation targets. It has a female director, S.J. Clarkson. There are two women credited as writers on the screenplay. Its cast is dominated by women: Dakota Johnson, Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced, and Celeste O’Connor. It’s a diverse cast as well, with a number of different racial and ethnic categories represented.

It’s even loosely associated with the very popular Spider-Man universe. While not directly related to the Tom Holland-starring Spider-Man films or the wildly successful Spiderverse movies, it has a tangential connection to Sony’s other superhero projects. And it still spectacularly failed, in a way that’s reminiscent of Disney/Marvel’s Brie Larson starring The Marvels

READ: ‘The Marvels’ May Be Disney’s Biggest Box Office Flop Yet

Which raises the question, why does Hollywood keep doing this to itself?

Pandering And Virtue-Signaling Hurting Hollywood

Madame Web opened to just over $15 million despite being placed in over 4,000 theaters across the country. It benefitted from opening on Valentine’s Day and taking advantage of the long President’s Day weekend. 

And it still made just $26 million domestically in its first six days. For a movie that was ostensibly meant to launch a franchise, it was an unmitigated disaster, likely ending any possibility of a longer series. 

The failure of The Marvels and Madame Webb highlights a much larger, structural problem in Hollywood: they put their desired political outlook ahead of quality film-making. After 2016, and especially after 2020, the industry recommitted itself to representation first. Quite literally, it introduced specific quotas for major projects and award possibilities.

And in doing so, the industry set itself on a path to making movies that appeal to an audience that doesn’t actually exist. 

Making movies targeted to women, of course, makes sense. But making superhero movies targeted to women doesn’t. Barbie was one of 2023’s most financially successful films, despite its severe flaws. Because it was a movie targeted to women that centered around a character and message that women responded to.

But in trying to force equal gender representation into superhero movies, Hollywood’s attempting to make women see stories and characters they have no interest in. And they’re getting hammered in the process.

Will Hollywood Correct Course?

There are limitless examples of movies targeting audiences correctly. Action films like the Mission Impossible series or Top Gun, or Lord of the Rings. They were made not out of a political necessity, but proper creative motivations. And they worked, financially and critically.

Madame Webb was the opposite. A movie no one asked for, given a massive budget to hit a specific representation goal. 

To the surprise of absolutely no one outside of Sony, it flopped. 

Disney has become the poster child for the progressive financial failure, but this release makes it clear that these problems aren’t limited to one studio, they’re industry wide. And if they’re not fixed soon, an already shaky entertainment industry may take even more financial hits. 

Or maybe they’ll keep putting out She Hulk-style series and Captain Marvel-starring sequels. And keep losing money.

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