As of 2018, Marvel has made over $1 billion dollars on six of its films, including over $2 billion on “Avengers: Infinity War”. With the high praise that Marvel has received on several of its franchises, such as “Iron Man” — and due to their ability to popularize overlooked heroes like “Ant Man” and “Black Panther” — Marvel has never been revered so strongly before, which is what makes their business with Gunn so complicated.
“Fans have already expressed their displeasure with Disney’s actions on social media. The irony here is that Gunn is the first one of the these franchise director firings that was not based on creative differences (as with the Star Wars franchise, for example), but purely a matter of public relations regarding his social media posts,” Kia said.
The Twitter posts were offensive.
“The offensive attitudes and statements discovered on James’ Twitter feed are indefensible and inconsistent with our studio’s values,” Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter at the time of the firing.
Gunn issued a statement at that time saying, “My words of nearly a decade ago were, at the time, totally failed and unfortunate efforts to be provocative. I have regretted them for many years since — not just because they were stupid, not at all funny, wildly insensitive, and certainly not provocative like I had hoped, but also because they don’t reflect the person I am today or have been for some time. … Regardless of how much time has passed, I understand and accept the business decisions taken today.”
The Gunn firing occurred at a time when Disney already found itself caught up in multiple difficult decisions as part of a broader political and culture war. The company’s ABC Television Group recently removed Roseanne Barr from the successful Roseanne spinoff she created, “The Connors,” after an insensitive tweet, and pulled an episode of the popular series “Black-ish” which reportedly delved into race relations in the U.S. The creator of that show, Kenya Barris, announced in August he was leaving his deal with Disney/ABC Studios early, for Netflix.
Under Gunn, Guardians did not only do well at the box office, but was well-received critically. The first installment received a 92 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, while its sequel scored 88 percent. Both films were written and directed by Gunn.
After next year’s untitled “Avengers” film, the future for Marvel movies is a bit unclear. Besides “Spider-Man: Far From Home”, “Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume Three” was supposed to be a crucial piece in Marvel’s next phase of films, especially with several stars’ contracts being up like Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, who star as “Iron Man” and “Captain America.”
Media conglomerates are designed to shield studios from short-term volatility, but at the studio level, blockbuster performance is crucial to both Marvel and Disney. “They are wagering that the Gunn firing will not undermine the franchise. That is a huge gamble,” Kia said.
—By Donovan Russo, special to CNBC.com