It’s hard to believe when taken at face value, but Justice League — the blockbuster superhero crossover that just landed a $94 million dollar opening weekend — is a financial failure. Not just a failure, but one so titanic is scale that it stands an incredibly good chance of sinking the entire DCEU cinematic universe: the “big one” that finally pops the superhero bubble that’s been ballooning since the turn of the century.
It wasn’t that long ago that a nearly $100 million dollar domestic opening was considered a momentous success for any studio lucky enough to find itself on the receiving end of it. Even just looking back to the start of 2017, Logan earned only $88 million. Why does it get the free pass and Justice League gets branded a disappointment?
It’s all a matter of perspective. Justice League cost three times as much to make as Logan, and its PG-13 rating ensured that as many people as possible could pay to see it, yet it barely outgrossed the latest X-Men film at the box office.
And discounting an R-rated deconstruction of the genre and a movie starring a cast full of Legos, Justice League is the lowest grossing superhero movie of the year. And despite being sold to the public as being worth more than the sum of its parts, it’s the lowest grossing movie in its franchise.
Consider the numbers that the movie was supposed to put up over that same period of time. A month ago, it was supposed to earn $150 at its outset. Two weeks ago, Warner Bros assured us that it would make a commanding $120 million: roughly the same amount earned by Thor: Ragnarok in its US debut. Last week it was supposed to earn $110 million: comparable to what Wonder Woman took in during its summer debut. And as of last Friday, those expectations fell to the meager numbers we saw Monday morning.
So yes, earning less than $100 million dollars over its opening weekend is cause to call it a massive financial failure. The fact that industry analysts predict that it would have to earn $600 million or more before it so much as breaks even — a number that it looks incapable of hitting over its theatrical lifetime — means that it will in all likelihood cost Warner Bros far more than it will earn.
Based on its opening weekend — and the very real probability that it won’t even carry the box office in its second week of release thanks to newcomer Coco — it looks as if Justice League, DC’s supposed answer to The Avengers, will cause Warner Bros to lose upwards of $100 million. That’s one hundred million dollars lost on a $600+ million gamble.
That’s enough to ruin anybody’s Thanksgiving.
It brings into stark relief the doubtful prospects of the DCEU, now that its “big guns” can’t even turn a profit for the studio that owns them. The next movie slated for the franchise is the already finished Aquaman. And while its lower budget and favorable holiday release would normally reassure nervous studio executives itching to turn a profit, I can’t see a movie starring the least compelling member of the Justice League doing better than one starring Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg AND Aquaman all together. And, if we’re being honest here, Warner Bros might actually lose less money on that film by not releasing it to theaters than it would by putting it out next December.
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