Can ‘Marvel’s Inhumans’ Still Succeed After Rocky Start?

ABC series got two-week IMAX run ahead of tonight’s TV premiere

This has been a hairy summer for “Marvel’s Inhumans” ahead of the ABC drama’s TV debut tonight.

It remains to be seen how many people will tune in to see Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Inhuman Royal Family on a mission to save the world. But there’s no denying that the show presumably has high viewer awareness, owing to its unconventional path that included a two-week IMAX run earlier this month that yielded $1.5 million from 393 screens domestically.

While some fans have taken to social media to share positive reactions to the first two episodes, critics by and large have not been kind.

“ABC seems to have misstepped or overestimated the audience’s appetite for a big-screen theatrical experience,” Neil Landau, author of “TV Outside the Box” and head of the Writing for Television program at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, told TheWrap. “I guess ‘Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?’ might be an apt analogy.”

The theatrical launch followed generally negative response to the trailers that were released earlier in the summer, with criticism specifically centering on the wig worn by Medusa (Serinda Swan) that many people found to be fake-looking.

This led ABC entertainment president Channing Dungey to address the snark at a press event last month, saying that the show “is still a work in progress.”

Despite all this, comScore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian is reluctant to dub the IMAX plan a misfire. Instead, he commends the show’s team for finding a way to create an event-like experience during a time of year when there is a dearth of content suited for IMAX’s screens.

“Given the brutal reviews that ‘Inhumans’ has been receiving, the IMAX theatrical box office take is actually impressive particularly in light of the fact that audiences, despite being aware that they could see the film on broadcast TV for free in less than a month, still opted in to see it in a theater,” Dergarabedian said.

But the IMAX run may also have had negative repercussions and given pause to network executives who may have been contemplating a similar strategy for future shows. Charging fans full ticket prices for two TV episodes ran the risk of creating lofty expectations, along with the fact that it’s difficult for any broadcast show to look as impressive on IMAX as a big-budget feature film would.

For his part, IMAX CEO Richard Gelfond said that “Inhumans” did “fine” in its first weekend, but that the company nonetheless opted to instead play “It” on many of the screens that were initially committed to the second week of “Inhumans.” (“It” came out a week after “Inhumans” and has been a smash success.)

Indeed, the bigger worry than the theatrical turnout is the fact that “Inhumans” currently holds a four percent freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

“A near-zero Rotten Tomatoes score is the death knell these days,” Landau said. “Super low overnight Nielsen ratings used to be that kiss of death — a.k.a. cancellation — but the TV networks are being much more patient to let their shrinking audience find a show and build.”

He continued, “Even though I have enormous respect for Channing Dungey, ABC appears to have miscalculated. I predict swift cancellation if the ratings are subpar.”

ABC declined to comment. IMAX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Marvel’s Inhumans” premieres Sept. 29 at 8/7c on ABC.