Why Did Netflix Cancel Their Marvel Television Shows

When Netflix released the first season of Daredevil, the Marvel superhero show centered around a street-level vigilante, in 2015 it was hailed as a welcome addition to Netflix’s growing slate of quality original content. The show, which was canceled in November 2018 after its third season, was a fan favorite and a critical darling from the start, earning 99% approval on RottenTomatoes.com for its first season. Netflix soon followed up Daredevil with another show based on a Marvel superhero, Jessica Jones, which debuted on the streaming platform only seven months after Daredevil. From there, Netflix branched out rapidly with four additional Marvel shows in two years: Luke Cage (2016), Iron Fist (2017), The Defenders (2017), and The Punisher (2017). The response to these shows was never as uniformly positive as Daredevil season one, and only the first seasons of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage would also rise above 90% on RottenTomatoes.com. As of last week with the cancelation of Jessica Jones and The Punisher, in the span of not quite four years, Netflix gave life to and then gave the axe to all six of their Marvel shows. Following season three of Jessica Jones later this year, Netflix will no longer be releasing new Marvel shows. The move by Netflix to cancel their roster of Marvel superheros came as a surprise to many fans who expected the Disney-Marvel/Netflix partnership to carry on for many years to come.

So why did Netflix cancel their Marvel television shows? Netflix is notoriously cagey about their viewership numbers and their programming decisions, so it is possible that they felt the well of success had run dry. Certainly, the timeline has all the indications of “Too Much, Too Soon.” With six major television shows released within two years, the odds of them all being successful are pretty slim to begin with. But that still doesn’t explain why they would cancel all of them. An educated guess might be that Netflix is preempting and preparing for the beginning of Disney’s own streaming platform, Disney+, which is set for launch in Fall of 2019. The massive popularity of Netflix’s streaming service has created a ripple effect of entertainment companies seeking to be the next big thing in streaming television. It is possible that Netflix foresaw that their creative partnership with Disney-Marvel might soon become overshadowed by their competition for the streaming market. It is uncertain whether Disney had its own plans to withdraw from the venture with Netflix. It could be Netflix was simply beating them to the punch.

Disney has announced that amongst its enormously-budgeted original shows created for Disney+ there will be three Marvel television shows. Disney plans to increase interest in their streaming site with television shows focused on Loki, Thor’s brother and perennial villain, in addition to a show focused on Avengers’ members Scarlet Witch and The Vision, as well as a show focused on Captain America’s allies The Falcon and The Winter Soldier.

Disney has made no indication that it intends to make Disney+ the exclusive home of its Marvel television shows. Agents of Shield soon begins filming its seventh season for ABC, with no indication that it will be its last season. Disney also recently announced a new deal with the streaming site Hulu to create a slate of four Marvel adult-oriented animated shows: Tiagra & Dazzler, Howard the Duck, M.O.D.O.K., and Hit-Monkey, all culminating in a crossover show aptly titled The Offenders. Hulu currently produces the live-action Marvel superhero show The Runaways, and Hulu’s Senior VP of Originals Craig Erwich has stated that Hulu is willing to resurrect the Marvel shows canceled by Netflix. So it is entirely possible that Disney will find a new home for those shows. Disney also gets a better bargain working with Hulu, because Disney currently owns 30% of Hulu. And following the sale of 21st Century Fox to Disney, Disney will then own 60% of Hulu, with Comcast retaining its 30% ownership, and AT&T holding 10% ownership. Disney is currently finalizing their deal to buy 21st Century Fox, which would grant them majority ownership of Hulu.  One might wonder why Disney would want to be so invested in another streaming platform when their own streaming site, Disney+, is so imminent. It is most likely because Disney plans to keep the shows on Disney+ exclusively family-friendly, with Bob Iger announcing last year that Disney+ would not feature R-rated content. 

The Marvel shows cancelled by Netflix, have been fairly adult-oriented, with Daredevil in particular being noted for its brutal and realistic violence. If Disney has plans to make Hulu its home for mature streaming television, then it's possible that Netflix expected Disney would cancel their Netflix/Marvel shows once they gain controlling ownership of Hulu.

Whatever the exact reason for the decision by Netflix, fans of the Netflix/Marvel shows are not ready to give up hope and neither is Jeph Loeb, Head of Marvel Television. Loeb released an open letter to the fans of the Marvel/Netflix shows, thanking them for their dedication and love for the characters, finishing it with a mysterious hint of things to come: “Our Network partner may have decided they no longer want to continue telling the tales of these great characters… but you know Marvel better than that.”

Unfortunately it seems that it may be a few years before fans can expect Disney to resurrect Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and The Punisher. Sources told Variety that Netflix holds exclusive rights to the characters on television for two years following their cancelation. So it is unlikely we will see them make a return before 2020, but the fans will be waiting eagerly until they do.