Aquaman's Box Office Lessons
Aquaman grossing this much makes the impending departures of Cavill and Affleck sting a little less. The franchise now has two cornerstone characters they can build around - the other being Wonder Woman. Diana Prince already has a sequel coming through the pipeline and is now scheduled for a summer 2020 premiere. WB still has not made any official confirmations on an Aquaman 2, but it's likely only a matter of time before that happens. The studio was reportedly internally discussing followup possibilities and star Jason Momoa pitched his own ideas to WB brass. Nobody is going to leave this kind of money on the table, so Arthur Curry will return soon.
Still, the fact Aquaman 2 is not dated yet represents a dramatic shift in WB's handing of their prized franchise. In the early days, they made a thinly-veined attempt to copy the Marvel formula by rushing into crossover films and placing a priority on fleshing out the shared universe. Justice League's post-credits stinger is a blatant setup for a sequel where the heroes would do battle against Lex Luthor's Legion of Doom. The only problem with that is that it's now incredibly unlikely Justice League 2 comes into fruition, meaning the studio has to scrap plans they've already publicly revealed (which is a little embarrassing). Judging from that initial 2014 DC slate, it's clear the studio got way ahead of themselves. Movies like The Flash and Green Lantern Corps. are no closer to hitting the big screen now than they were upon their first announcement nearly five years ago.
Since that model didn't exactly work, WB is trying something they know from experience does: produce quality, standalone pieces that stand on their own merits and go from there. That's the approach that yielded Richard Donner's iconic Superman: The Movie and Christopher Nolan's game-changing Dark Knight trilogy. Aquaman is very much cut from that same cloth. Outside of a Steppenwolf name-drop, it doesn't bend over backwards to tie into the larger DCEU and keeps the focus squarely on Aquaman's corner of the franchise. Yes, there is a stinger teasing an Aquaman sequel, but that's no different from Nolan ending Batman Begins on the Joker card. Importantly, WB and Wan were rewarded for their efforts, illustrating to the filmmakers that this is the way to go. See what works and then move forward with the next installments, rather than putting the cart before the horse.
WB now knows that solo Wonder Woman and Aquaman movies work, so they'll likely look to keep making those. This isn't to say there won't be any more crossovers in the DCEU (Momoa wants Wonder Woman and the Flash in his sequel), but they're no longer the priority. Look at Wonder Woman 1984, which Patty Jenkins is envisioning as its own thing. Odds are, DCEU connections there will be minimal, with much of the focus on Diana and the surprise return of Steve Trevor. This is smart. The Avengers wasn't successful simply because it threw a bunch of heroes at the screen; it told an entertaining story that was worth being invested in. The temptation to do massive team-ups is understandable, but by now we've seen too many instances of studios trying and failing to replicate the Marvel formula (hi, Dark Universe). What audiences really want are quality movies. Arthur is the only Justice League member in Aquaman and it made $1 billion. Solo superhero movies aren't an antique because Infinity War exists.
If Aquaman had failed or posted Bumblebee type numbers, then DC would have been in fairly large trouble, leaning almost too heavily on the Wonder Woman franchise without anything else to develop. Fortunately, things worked out for the best and now WB can confidently move forward with future adventures in Atlantis. And ideally, Aquaman marks the dawn of a new era for the DCEU. The franchise has some positive momentum now in the months leading up to Shazam, which is garnering buzz due to its fun marketing campaign. Perhaps DC has finally figured it out.
- Shazam! (2019) release date: Apr 05, 2019
- Joker (2019) release date: Oct 04, 2019
- Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020) release date: Feb 07, 2020
- Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020