Well, Justice League is finally here, and it's not what anyone expected. While critical predictions are always a point of contention in the DC Extended Universe, all the movies have at least been able to make money, until Justice League, which scored a measly opening weekend haul under $94 million. Justice League was supposed to be the pinnacle of the DCEU, bringing the whole team together in live action for the first time and scoring big at the box office, but instead, it has the lowest opening weekend in the franchise, coming in more than $20 million under Man of Steel.
While the second week's take only dropped by 56% - a fairly reasonable number considering much higher drops in other DC movies - it's not enough to make much of a difference after such an abysmal opening weekend. Justice League could have the best legs seen in the DCEU yet and it'll still be the lowest grossing movie in the franchise. An inexcusable failure, considering its increase in star power and a budget upwards of $300 million. At this point, there's debate over whether or not the movie will even make a profit, but even if it manages to crawl past the break-even point, that hardly gives the movie any kind of bragging rights and definitely doesn't change the fact that, somewhere along the way, Warner Bros. slipped up so bad as to allow the movie that should be their biggest of the year become the lowest grossing in the entire franchise. Its final box office haul will ultimately be several hundred million dollars below what should be expected.
So how did this happen? Marvel was able to put together a billion-dollar Avengers success by stringing together a few movies featuring superheroes unknown to the general moviegoing public, so how could Warner Bros. take some of the most well known fictional icons and produce a movie this financially disappointing? While there are plenty of fingers to point, there's not one clear answer, but if we take a walk down the road leading to Justice League, we can begin to piece together the origins of one of DC's biggest failures.
Minimal Character Appeal
DC characters, particularly Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, may have more built-in brand recognition than the B and C list characters that make up the MCU (before the addition of Spider-Man, at least), but the most recent appearances of these DC characters haven't exactly connected with mainstream audiences. Sure, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman have strong followings, but by and large, as Henry Cavill says, they are fairly niche movies for the genre, which is fine for something like Logan that has an R rating and $100 million price tag attached, but the versions of these characters intended to be the most mainstream (and therefore most accessible) came with much higher price tags and much more polarized reactions.
Wonder Woman obviously struck a chord with moviegoers and saw great reviews and a lucrative extended box office run, but she wasn't enough to overcome the weight of versions of Batman and Superman who only registered with specific fans. When comparing every DCEU movie so far, excluding Wonder Woman (the exception that proves the rule), they have all been accompanied by above average second-week box office dropoffs, meaning the combination of marketing, word of mouth, and critical reviews was lackluster enough to not get people to turn out. After enough let downs, audiences just stopped showing up in the first place.
The same thing can be seen with the Transformers franchise. While the Michael Bay movies have been dogged by poor critics from the start, they continued to make giant hauls at the box office, until the fifth installment, Transformers: The Last Knight, where audiences finally accepted that Michael Bay trailers are often better than Michal Bay movies and just stayed home.
Then there's the new characters. Word of mouth and critical reviews has seemingly been mostly positive on The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman, but not having solo movies first may have negatively impacted Justice League's box office. While the story did a great job introducing them, proving solo origins movies aren't required for every character, the lack of stand-alone movies for the new characters means the only built-in fan base are mostly comic book fans, which isn't enough to power a box office victory.
- Aquaman (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018
- Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020
- Shazam! (2019) release date: Apr 05, 2019