NOTE: All box office figures are as of September 2, 2016
Following the mixed reaction to Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, fans of the DC Extended Universe were hopeful that David Ayer's Suicide Squad would become the bona fide critical and commercial hit the franchise needed to regain some forward momentum. Unfortunately, the villain team-up was another polarizing installment that failed to win over any new converts. There's no denying that the film has its fair share of fans, but it wasn't met with the universal praise some were hoping for. On the box office side of things, however, the story was quite different.
Thanks to a killer marketing campaign that made Suicide Squad the most buzzed-about movie of the summer, the Worst. Heroes. Ever. grossed a whopping $133.6 million during the opening weekend, shattering the August record that was previously set by Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014. While that was a fantastic start, Suicide Squad, like Batman V Superman before it, took a substantial hit in its second weekend (67.4 percent), indicating that it wouldn't have strong legs. It's true that tentpoles like this are typically front loaded, but a drop of nearly 70 percent raises some eyebrows. Captain America: Civil War fell 59.5 percent in its second weekend back in May, by comparison.
Still, thanks to its strategic placement at the beginning of August (when the summer movie season is starting to wind down), Suicide Squad was at an advantage. Due to minimal competition, the movie was able to stay in the top spot for three straight weekends, one more than Dawn of Justice managed. With conflicting reports on Suicide Squad's box office performance, we decided it would be worth exploring whether or not the film can be considered a box office success.
Turning A Profit
One of the biggest points of contention surrounding Suicide Squad is how much it had to make in order to be considered profitable. Its production budget is said to be around $175 million, but that does not include the marketing costs, which were most likely very high. Some have said that the film needed to gross about $800 million worldwide to "break even," but that figure is most likely false. Batman V Superman with is $250 million production budget (and marketing tacked on) needed to cross that threshold to be considered profitable, but Squad's magic number was lower. A more realistic total for David Ayer's film is $600 million, which would cover all the filming and advertising costs, including those pesky publicized reshoots.
A quick look at Suicide Squad's current numbers show that the film has brought in $643.3 million globally, which ekes it over that profitability point. It's also expected that it will end its run with a worldwide haul in excess of $700 million, meaning that Suicide Squad should be in the black by more than $100 million, a nice turn of events for a comic book adaptation that featured several characters general audiences were unfamiliar with up until recently. It's worth pointing out that Guardians of the Galaxy made $773.3 million globally on a $170 million budget, and it's considered one of the most successful Marvel movies to date.
Suicide Squad may not be able to beat Batman V Superman at the box office (as some had theorized prior to its release), but the combined numbers of both films illustrate that audiences are interested in seeing DC characters up on the big screen. In fact, Suicide Squad is going to top Man of Steel domestically and is on the precipice of passing it worldwide. For all the talk of how Warner Bros. needs to course correct their prized franchise, they have shown an ability to draw in large crowds. Yes, it's true that the studio would like to see their films earn stronger reviews (which would probably lead to more box office money), but for the time being, they're riding high and have excited many. No matter what the general consensus of Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad is, viewers want to see more of Ben Affleck's Caped Crusader, Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman, Will Smith's Deadshot, and of course, Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn.
So, from this perspective, Suicide Squad can be considered a success. Its profit margin may not be as large as the mid-budgeted Deadpool or the mega blockbuster Civil War, but it still made its money back (and then some), proving to be a smart investment for WB. In a summer that saw one box office disappointment after another, that has to count for something. Suicide Squad couldn't reach the heights of a Dark Knight or Iron Man in terms of critical reception, though fans are eager to see the characters return and there should be high interest in a sequel. All things considered, Suicide Squad is a win.
The $1 Billion Question
In the changing landscape of Hollywood, "success" has become synonymous with $1 billion worldwide. Before Star Wars: The Force Awakens hit theaters last December, a 60 Minutes report said for the film to avoid being labeled a disappointment, it had to make $1.5 billion. That's a lot of pressure to put on a single movie, and it's not always plausible for certain projects. Something like Star Wars, which has been a pop culture institution for nearly 40 years, can hit that mark relatively easily. Suicide Squad, which was a second-tier comic property, should be given some leeway when it comes to commercial expectations.
Even though $1 billion films are becoming more common, it's still a rare feat. Only 26 movies in history have hit that mark to date. For franchises, it's uncommon for them to come storming out of the gates with $1 billion grosses; they typically come after a buildup of multiple entries. Batman Begins made $374.2 million globally before both of its sequels punched tickets into the $1 billion club. The Avengers was the sixth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe when it became the first MCU production to cross that figure. In the early days of that series, Iron Man made $585.2 million, Thor brought in $449.3 million, and Captain America: The First Avenger made only $370.6 million. Back when the faces of the MCU were Marvel's "B-Team," they too couldn't sniff $1 billion. The Incredible Hulk saw just a "paltry" $263.4 million.
So just because the DCEU hasn't seen a $1 billion smash doesn't mean that they've failed. The three films so far have collectively made a strong $2.1 billion despite all the "controversy" concerning the divisive word-of-mouth. In all likelihood, the franchise will see $1 billion glory in the near future, possibly as early as next year. Wonder Woman should capitalize on the enthusiasm about Gadot's Batman V Superman cameo, and the prospect of a more light-hearted and fun Justice League will be more appealing for moviegoers than the darker Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice. If the maligned Transformers films can continue to post $1 billion, there's no reason why Batman and Superman can't join those ranks eventually.
$1 billion sounds nice, but it isn't the end all be all for a box office triumph. This summer's The Secret Life of Pets grossed $727.3 million worldwide and is getting a sequel. Deadpool made history with $782.6 million. These are something of apples-to-oranges comparisons (since these all had different sized budgets), but it goes to show that there are various barometers for "success" in the film industry. Making $700+ million globally for an entire run is no small feat and lets the studio know that there is very much an audience for what they're working on.
Ultimately, Suicide Squad should go down as a box office success. In terms of global ticket sales, it's already covered its budget, and there will be other revenue streams (home media, merchandising) to add to the totals as time goes on. Given that the Joker, and possibly Harley Quinn, were the only characters casual viewers were familiar with heading in, the numbers it's posted so far are highly impressive and highlight that if nothing else, WB employs a killer marketing team that can sell just about any concept.
All that said, the studio's definition of success might change as they progress through their slate. $700 million for Justice League won't cut it, and Affleck's Batman standalone will be expected to post high grosses. The onus will be on the filmmakers to ensure that future projects are well-received when it comes to word-of-mouth, since the substantial drop-offs for Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad illustrate that not everyone is taken with seeing famous comic book characters on the big screen if the quality of the movie isn't up to par. The DCEU has to manage the second weekend blues, but for now, they're in good shape.
Suicide Squad is now playing in theaters. Wonder Woman opens in theaters on June 2, 2017, followed by 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, The Batman solo movie, Dark Universe and Man of Steel 2 are currently without a release dates.