Justice League opened this weekend with $96 million and there is no way to sugar coat it that is DISASTROUS. It’s the lowest opening for a DC movie since Man of Steel launched in 2013 with $116 million, it’s $70 million short of Batman v Superman’s opening last year, and it’s well short of the expectations, which were $110-120 million. Not to mention that DC’s dream team just got spanked in head-to-head competition by Thor, Marvel’s C-list Avenger. That is the headline Warner Brothers needed to avoid, and it’s the one they now cannot escape. They challenged Marvel in direct box office combat, and got their asses handed to them by THOR, of all characters. Do not be surprised if there’s an executive shuffle at DC Films within the next couple months.
There’s really no silver lining. People are trying it, pointing at Wonder Woman’s $103 million opening weekend, saying it’s not THAT much better, but 1) she cracked the hundred club, and 2) Wonder Woman had LEGS. That movie only just exited theaters THIS MONTH. Wonder Woman powered to over $820 million based on incredible word of mouth and repeat viewings, two things Justice League won’t get. Audiences gave it a CinemaScore B+, a slight improvement on Batman v Superman’s B. But BvS was reviled, so consider the word of mouth for Justice League mixed at best.
Some of the other “it’s not THAT bad” comparisons are Fate of the Furious, which debuted at $98 million, but that was a huge come-down from Furious 7’s $147 million debut, and while Fate reached $1.2 billion, it did so off a phenomenal international run. Domestically, it only made $225 million, a number Justice League will count itself lucky to hit (worst case scenario, it barely taps $200 million at home). Justice League is enjoying a stronger international run ($185 million), but that’s down from Batman v Superman. Realistically, Justice League might not even collect $750 million, all told.
If it didn’t cost so f*cking much, that wouldn’t be such a big deal. But Justice League is estimated to cost $300 million, with another $150 million added in for marketing. Every other possible comparison cost much less. Logan, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Spider-Man: Homecoming all cost less. Wonder Woman cost HALF what Justice League did. You cannot spend upwards of half a billion dollars to put a movie into theaters and be happy with the result Justice League got.
Is there any good news? Well, the deck is cleared for the next few weeks. Pixar’s Coco opens this week, but it’s a family film and won’t directly target the same audience. And The Last Jedi doesn’t open till December 15, so Justice League has some room to play. But with mediocre word of mouth, will it play hard enough? Thanksgiving is a family holiday, so if you’re a family looking to go to the movies over the long weekend, are you choosing Justice League? Or do you go for a kid-friendly film like Wonder or Coco? And if you’re looking for something a little more grown up, there’s Murder on the Orient Express. Even if you are looking for superhero entertainment, well, you have two options, and one of them is going to come up with glowing reviews and the other won’t. (This is where Rotten Tomatoes and reviews DO matter, in the second and later weeks, when people are more likely to investigate their options.) It’s very possible Justice League dies on the vine just like Batman v Superman did.
Honestly, I don’t know where DC Films goes from here. Aquaman is slated for release next December—although the bold reader who predicted Justice League’s less than stellar opening is also banking on that getting shuffled off—and Shazam!, the gateway to Dwayne Johnson’s Black Adam project, is supposed to start filming in the new year. And of course, Wonder Woman 2 is coming together under Patty Jenkins. But Joss Whedon’s Batgirl project? I bet that gets cancelled. Ezra Miller’s solo Flashpoint movie? Still director-hunting, and who gets cold feet after such a weak debut? Green Lantern Corps? Nobody attached anywhere, so it’s probably toast, too. That Cyborg movie that is never being made? It’s never being made. All those Joker movies? LOL no. This IP is too valuable to leave on the table, but it is clear Warners and DC have to find a new way forward.
And Wonder Woman should be that way forward. Though the Justice League audience skewed male, women rated the movie higher (the Wonder Woman halo effect, and the fact that it wasn’t stronger says Warners failed in marketing to convince more newly-converted Diana fans to come out), and at this point, Diana is the only character people have unquestionably embraced. Aquaman is happening, and Shazam! is probably too close to start to pull back—and it has The Rock, savior of struggling franchises—but everything else should be cleared away. Even Matt Reeves’ proposed Batman trilogy: Do we need it? There have been ten Batman movies in the last twenty years. Maybe some of this DC mess is Batman fatigue. Maybe it’s time for someone else to take the lead. And the only option Warners has is Wonder Woman.
Here's Gal Gadot at the 2017 GO Campaign Gala on Saturday.