Going into 2016, it was expected that Zack Snyder's Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice would be the crown jewel of the DC Extended Universe. For the first time, the two (arguably) most iconic superheroes in pop culture were going to co-star in the same live-action film, and Wonder Woman was making her big screen debut. It was a movie event that the comic book genre hadn't seen yet, and many were eagerly anticipating its arrival. But when Batman V Superman finally arrived, things changed in unexpected ways.
The film received a beating from critics and divided the opinions of fans, many of whom felt Snyder completely misrepresented the superheroes he holds dear. Though Dawn of Justice broke box office records during its opening weekend, it saw a massive drop-off following that debut, and it became unclear if the movie could be considered a commercial success. When production and marketing costs are factored, it's believed that Batman V Superman is less profitable than its predecessor Man of Steel, and a big budget film featuring the Last Son of Krypton and The Dark Knight couldn't top Deadpool domestically. The $872.6 million global total is nothing to sneeze at, but it's far from the $1 billion heights Warner Bros. wanted.
In the aftermath, WB did some reshuffling behind-the-scenes, appointing Geoff Johns as overseer of the DCEU and inviting members of the press for an unprecedented early Justice League set visit. It's clear the studio is hoping to get its massive franchise back on the right track, and their fortunes could be reversed as early as this August when Suicide Squad opens in theaters. The villain team-up has been generating much interest since the first trailer came out last year during San Diego Comic-Con, and now that the first box office projections for David Ayer's installment are out, it's worth posing the question: can Suicide Squad make more money than Batman V Superman?
The Suicide Squad Hype Train
It would be an understatement to say viewers are excited about Suicide Squad. It was recently announced that the film is currently the most buzzed about title of 2016, even more so than blockbuster sequels Star Trek Beyond and Jason Bourne (which both come out later this month). Harley Quinn and the Joker may be the only characters casual moviegoers recognize, but awareness for what was once a niche DC Comics property is definitely not an issue. The marketing campaign has been absolutely sublime, raising expectations to a point where even Ayer was caught off guard. As a result, Suicide Squad is poised to gross around $125 million in its first three days in North America.
Yes, Batman V Superman was very much in the public eye during its pre-release phase, but the reaction was very different. The promotional materials for Dawn of Justice drew the ire of fans, who claimed that the film was "too dark" and the trailers spoiled much of the finished product (such as the Doomsday reveal). In contrast, Suicide Squad has put together one of the best collection of advertisements in recent memory. The previews are gleefully kinetic, set to retro pop songs from Queen and Sweet. The posters are flashy and colorful, giving each member of the "Skwad" personalized skull logos. They've made Suicide Squad feel like a fun movie - one that people can't wait to see.
History has shown that good marketing can go a long way in ensuring longterm box office success. Both Deadpool and Star Wars: The Force Awakens shattered opening weekend records when they were released, in large part due to the hype the trailers and TV spots generated. Studies have shown that the average person will see just four or five new movies at the theater in a year, so there's pressure on the promotional team to make theirs stand out. It's safe to assume the Suicide Squad ads have done just that, and it's ready to become the DCEU's answer to Guardians of the Galaxy: an irreverent romp placing morally ambiguous individuals in the spotlight.
Speaking of Guardians, Suicide Squad should be able to replicate the formula James Gunn and company used in 2014. Coming out at the tail end of the summer movie season, Suicide Squad won't face much in terms of high-profile competition as its run progresses. August 12th sees the release of Pete's Dragon and Sausage Party, but both have different target audiences when compared to Suicide Squad and shouldn't pose that much of a threat. There will be some key holdovers lingering in the form of Ghostbusters, Star Trek, and Bourne, yet social media indicates the Worst. Heroes. Ever. will be the tentpole of choice for the whole month. Assuming Suicide Squad is actually a quality film, it should become one of the biggest movies of the year.
Domestic vs. International
When trying to determine if Suicide Squad can top Batman V Superman, there are two numbers one needs to look at: the domestic and international totals for Dawn of Justice. Obviously, these are the benchmarks that Suicide Squad needs to clear. As mentioned earlier, Batman V Superman grossed $872.6 million globally, $330.3 million of which came in the U.S. It's worth pointing out that though Dawn of Justice entered the year as one of the most anticipated films, it's already been surpassed by five movies so far on the domestic charts. Currently, it trails Finding Dory, Captain America: Civil War, Deadpool, The Jungle Book, and Zootopia.
That group of works has one thing in common: they were all critical hits and had strong word-of-mouth to catapult them to the top. Suicide Squad's judgment day will come when the professional reviews start rolling in and a general consensus is formed. Early word out of test screenings is positive, but it's important to not put too much weight into those. Die-hard fans will pre-order their tickets at the first opportunity, while others will wait to see if the film is worth their investment. The Suicide Squad trailers suggest it would be difficult for it to be a truly bad film, but marketing materials have misled viewers before. If Ayer's film becomes the first critically acclaimed entry in the DCEU, then it's in great shape. The $125+ million projection is in the ballpark of Deadpool, which brought in $363 million domestically.
Internationally is a different story. Where it stands now, Batman V Superman is the fourth highest-grossing film worldwide, behind a trio of Disney blockbusters: Civil War, Zootopia, and Jungle Book. It has nearly $100 million on Deadpool's global haul, and Finding Dory still has some way to go to catch up ($653.6 million). We may live in a time where $870+ million can be considered a "disappointment," but it's still an impressive figure that'll be tough to top. Superman and Batman have been world icons for decades, whereas most of the characters in Suicide Squad are relative unknowns. The demand for comic book films has never been higher, but certain properties are a bigger draw than others. X-Men: Apocalypse, the ninth installment in the long-running franchise, has managed just $533.5 million worldwide. Even if Suicide Squad is a smash in the States, it doesn't mean that it will translate to foreign countries.
Still, Suicide Squad has the chance to be a major moneymaker overseas. The big question will be whether or not it receives release in China, the world's second largest market in the film industry. Deadpool was banned from the nation due to its explicit content, and Suicide Squad could face similar treatment. The film isn't rated R, the Joker's antics aren't necessarily for everyone, and there's no telling what Jared Leto's version is capable of. At the same time, China hasn't been averse to admitting films that push the boundaries of PG-13; Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight was banned because of its portrayal of a Hong Kong businessman with mob ties, not because Heath Ledger stabbed a pencil through someone's eye. Batman V Superman was screened in China, so Suicide Squad probably will too.
As we say every week in our box office prediction posts, there isn't an exact science to figuring this stuff out. It's impossible to tell how even the surest of bets will pan out. For instance, nobody saw Jurassic World bringing in $200 million in its opening weekend. With all that in mind, it's difficult to get a complete read on Suicide Squad, especially since there are no reviews available yet. Batman V Superman showed that one great weekend does not guarantee a prolonged run at the top.
There are plenty of factors working in Suicide Squad's favor, however. Not only has the marketing been great, it promises to be a refreshing change-of-pace from the "normal" superhero film. Some moviegoers feel that the genre is in danger of being played out, and a movie that mixes things up a bit could be a welcome development. That's precisely what happened with Deadpool, which made it clear from the start it wouldn't be your typical superhero story. Being different can be a good thing.
Where we stand now, we would have to say there is a very strong chance of Suicide Squad beating Batman V Superman domestically at the very least. Its positioning in August gives it separation from the summer's other massive tentpoles, and it will go largely unchallenged into September. As for worldwide, there are certain variables that need to break in Suicide Squad's favor, but it will by no means be a flop regardless of what happens. If WB wanted things to turn around quickly after Dawn of Justice's polarizing run, they're about to be in luck. Who knew that villains would be the ones saving the day?
Suicide Squad opens in U.S. theaters on August 5, 2016, followed by Wonder Woman on June 2, 2017; Justice League on November 17, 2017; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; an untitled DC Film on October 5, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League 2 on June 14, 2019; an untitled DC film on November 1, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps on July 24, 2020. The Flash is currently without a release date.