When baseball legend Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56 consecutive games, he set a modern record for hitting excellence that has yet to be duplicated or exceeded. Yet "Joltin' Joe" failed often during his most brilliant summer at the plate, ending 1941 having reached base only 44% of the time. He also struck out 13 times.
As DiMaggio was to baseball in the 1930s and '40s, Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Marvel Studios is to the business of making movies today. The hitting streak is alive, but there can be no doubt that a strikeout is coming.
Which of Marvel's upcoming features is most likely to whiff? Three Fool contributors make their picks. Read on to see if you agree.
Anders Bylund (Black Panther): Look, Marvel has a history of turning fairly obscure characters into box-office gold. Thor and Iron Man may have been quasi-household names before each became the centerpiece of movies scoring roughly half a billion dollars of global box office receipts, but they were hardly on every movie fan's short list of superheroes in need of a film treatment.
But Black Panther, currently slated for a July 2018 premiere? I don't see it.
Black Panther was always a relatively minor name even in Marvel fan circles. The character has a loyal core following, but it hardly touches the mainstream fringes of this subculture. In popularity polls, the name falls behind non-legends such as Dazzler and Captain Britain -- or gets left off the ballot altogether.
Is three years enough to build a marketing buzz for this arcane hero? I'm not so sure. Furthermore, in the comic books, Black Panther actually does battle against Ultron alongside the Avengers but ends up dead in that storyline. Marvel's cinematic universe mixes and matches its character arcs freely from various comic-book versions, but the Ultron story is kind of a big one that's hard to ignore.
By the way, this movie still doesn't have a firmly attached director. Three years may sound like a long lead time to pull together the cast and crew, shoot and edit the darn thing, and get the marketing machine going. But it really isn't.
As a Disney shareholder, I obviously wouldn't mind if the Marvel division pulls another rabbit out of its magic hat to create another billion-dollar hero franchise here. But if the Marvel saga ever presents a true flop, I expect Black Panther to be the one that failed.
Rich Duprey (Guardians of the Galaxy 2): Considering the first installment of Guardians of the Galaxy was such a surprise hit, it's difficult to say that the sequel, due in theaters in May 2017, won't be a similar smash.
Director James Gunn did a pretty masterful job of taking virtually unknown characters and imbuing them with a sense of life and vitality, enough so that GotG booked $333 million in domestic box-office receipts, according to Box Office Mojo, and more than $770 million worldwide.
Recently, Gunn teased that he completed the first draft of the sequel and hinted that it will be a story about "fathers." One likely plotline is that there will be a series of adventures in search of Star-Lord's father, who left Earth before Peter Quill was born. Gunn has confirmed that the character will be in the movie, but he's also said it won't be J'son as it was in the comics. (Nebula is also apparently out in the sequel.)
While few people expect movies to hew closely to storylines in books (or comic books), directors still run the risk of alienating fans who ultimately do like to keep things neat and orderly and not have their characters stray too far from the fold.
We also know that Chris Pratt (Peter) describes the movie as "emotional" and that it brought him to tears. Whether that's a good thing is debatable.
It's tough to bet against Marvel, and considering the unexpected success of the original GotG, it's already got a built-in fan base that will go and see it regardless. But there's still a risk that the sequel will fall flat as it deviates from what's expected, and that means Guardians of the Galaxy 2 could be Marvel's first film to flop.
Tim Beyers (Inhumans): If ever there was a Marvel movie that had no chance to succeed, it was Ant-Man.
Years of rewrites and hand-wringing finally led Marvel and director Edgar Wright to part ways last year, leaving fill-in Peyton Reed to make something of yet another script rewrite from star Paul Rudd and co-author Adam McKay. Yet Ant-Man has earned $336.5 million at the global box office as of this writing. Another $17 million in ticket sales would put the film in the black before a single DVD or Blu-ray sale.
Betting against Marvel is like betting against the house in Vegas. Both are almost always guaranteed to win. Even so, 2019's Inhumans may be facing a stacked deck.
Why? Agents of SHIELD has already introduced fans to the Inhumans as a concept, and future seasons are sure to dig deeper and mine stories that could have informed the movie. There's also a chance that -- as the first of Marvel's TV-to-movie franchises -- audiences that give the TV show middling ratings will have tired of the Inhumans before they get their big-screen debut. Either way, it's a risk that we've seen play out with licensees.
Fans tired of seeing the origin of Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four told and retold have steadily lost interest in both franchises. Sony (NYSE:SNE) has since responded by teaming with Marvel to put Spidey in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as an active participant; no reboot or reset required. Fantastic Four, meanwhile, was still over $120 million in gross receipts away from box-office breakeven following its second weekend in theaters. Twenty-First Century Fox (NASDAQ:FOXA) could end up losing tens of millions on the project.
Inhumans isn't likely to fail at the same level, if only because of the MCU's long record of achievement. But its TV ties also suggest that Inhumans will be produced and distributed differently from anything we've seen from Marvel Studios so far, and that makes it the most likely to flop.
Anders Bylund owns shares of Walt Disney. Rich Duprey has no position in any stocks mentioned. Tim Beyers owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.