Box office prognosticators are proving about as reliable as meteorologists. By this time last week, tracking for Justice League had it trending higher than Wonder Woman’s $103 million debut around the $110 million range. Now, it’s only expected to clock in around $96 million. What happened? Here’s some possible explanations.
Warner Bros. DC films have steadily dropped at the box office
Despite the goodwill earned from Wonder Woman, too many audience members were skeptical of Warner Bros.’ handling of the DC Universe in general. Wonder Woman benefited from being set during World War I and apart from the ongoing continuity.
This continues the slide of the DCEU on opening weekends. Despite all the fanfare, Wonder Woman’s debut was actually down from Suicide Squad’s $133 million opening. Suicide Squad also came in about $30 million less than the impressive $166 million opening for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. In hindsight this trend should have been predicted based on the established pattern.
Joss Whedon and Ben Affleck’s headlines for all the wrong reasons
One factor I haven’t seen a lot of is Whedon blowback. After the messy details of his divorce came out, the Whedon fansite Whedonesque shut down after 15 years. It’s possible some fans, potentially a lot who made Wonder Woman such a hit didn’t want to support a guy who constantly abused his power, slept around on his wife and overall embodied the kind of Hollywood dirt bag we’ve read so much about in the last month.
Affleck might not have come under fire as hard as Whedon, but his unwelcome sexual harassment issues likely didn’t win him a lot of new fans either. The constant rumors of him being phased out of his role as Batman probably didn’t establish a lot of confidence in a film with him front and center.
Keeping Superman’s return a secret may have been a misfire
Star Trek: Into Darkness’s debut ($70 Million) failed to surpass the relaunch’s opening weekend ($75 Million). One reason experts considered was the sequel kept the reveal of Khan as the main antagonist a secret, which likely would have been a huge marketing boost for nostalgic fans.
Likewise keeping Superman’s return made for a memorable moment for audiences those unaware might have assumed he wasn’t showing up based on the promotion.
Thor: Ragnarok was an unexpected major hit
This was arguably the biggest factor in Justice League’s box office troubles. Ragnarok wasn’t just the best Marvel film of the year, it won over critics was an impressive 92 percent freshness on Rotten Tomatoes.
Coming in just three weeks after Ragnarok rocked the box office, Justice League faced unfair expectations in terms of how a comic book film is supposed to be presented i.e. the Marvel Studios way.
Marvel Studios may have cornered the comic book market
Here’s more discouraging news. Since The Dark Knight Rises wrapper its 2012 run, five new films have arrived on the all-time highest grossing comic book list Top 10. Four of them are from Marvel Studios with only Wonder Woman as the outlier.
The problem isn’t that people aren’t going to see comic book movies. It’s that it takes exceptional ones to crack Marvel Studios’ domination. Wonder Woman’s prominent role in Justice League wasn’t enough to attract her fan base. Does this suggest the novelty of Wonder Woman on the big screen has already faded?
Just as confusing for Warner/DC execs going forward is deciphering what critics/audiences want. It took Justice League for critics to wax nostalgic on Zack Snyder’s previous DCEU films.
While they didn’t like his films they appreciated Snyder was doing something different. In bringing in Joss Whedon to handle reshoots and rewrites, Warner/DC allowed him to make a Marvel Studios film. And for some reason that didn’t connect.
What’s the future hold for DCEU? As a betting man, I’d wager Warners makes Wonder Woman its new Batman franchise and place Gal Gadot as the centerpiece of its movie franchise going forward. This should also lower expectations of Aquaman swimming in to save the day or lightning striking with the Shazam film. The long term success of the DC film branch will largely rely on Wonder Woman.