Justice League has had a long and painful journey from conception to release over the last year. It has been plagued by delays, reshoots, creative disagreements, director turnover, studio interference and fan scrutiny. Even after it was released, it has been plagued by detrimental critical reviews and non-existent fan support.
Most accounts from within the industry estimate that the movie would have to earn in excess of $700 million dollars just to earn back what Warner Bros invested in the film. Some insiders even suggest that the movie could lose upwards of $150 million dollars during its theatrical run.
The movie’s chances to change its ill fortune met a devastating setback this week, however. Over Christmas weekend, movie theaters across the country ditched Justice League in favor of new releases. According to reports, 1,600 theaters dropped the film this last weekend, virtually erasing its theatrical presence in the United States and killing whatever lingering hope it had to make back its exorbitant production, distribution and advertising budgets.
Earlier this year, it would have been unthinkable that Justice League would have been a financial failure. After all, it was Warner Bros’ answer to The Avengers: the culmination of the previous DC phase of movies that assembled the company’s most iconic and popular characters together for the very first time on the big screen. Even when the DCEU failed to inspire critics or fans with their grimdark vision of Batman and Superman — even when it underperformed at the box office — the movies individually have all made bank. Sure, they weren’t putting up Marvel numbers at the box office, but they were nevertheless raking in money hand over fist.
To date, Justice League has only earned $223 million within the United States. It has made less than twice than throughout the rest of the world. Collectively, its $647 million gross falls disastrously short of the new normal for major studio blockbusters — the coveted $1 billion mark — and still loses its production company a sizable fortune by even the most conservative and forgiving estimates.
Warner Bros. next move at this point is not entirely clear. The studio has loaded its production schedule with a scattershot of different DC pitches, including multiple, non-canonical takes on their cinematic universe and a reboot of their entire line of superhero movies. Some have even speculated that the company would lose less money by not releasing the already completed Aquaman — taking over a $100 million loss on its production — rather than spending even more money on releasing it to theaters and convincing people to buy tickets for it. After all, if all six of their heavy hitters couldn’t make money, what chance does the least interesting Justice Leaguer?
Maybe what Warner Bros needs to do is lay off the superhero movies. As much as I am in absolute love with the genre — and as much of my childhood was consumed with series like Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League — the public at large is tired of these increasingly slipshod DC movies. Except for Wonder Woman, the DCEU is an abject failure. And the studio itself is increasingly proving unequal to the task of bringing these characters to life on the big screen, having nothing even resembling a clue as to how to proceed with them in the face of this latest failure.
So cool your jets. Put these movies on ice. Work out what you actually want to do with them. Start fresh again a decade from now. Sort yourself out, Warner Bros.
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