I really thought, despite Ezra Miller’s many problems and an equal number of delays with the release date, that The Flash would make money. Barry Allen is a very popular comic book character with a high degree of audience recognition, thanks in no small part to the long-running CW series of the same name, so I thought he was kind of bulletproof in the cinematic space.
Well, boy, was I wrong, because The Flash had a horrible opening weekend of just $55 million, falling short of the lowest expectation of a $60 million debut. (The estimate for the three-day weekend, as Juneteenth is partially observed across the United States, is $64 million, still below estimates for the extended frame.)
Overseas isn’t much better, with The Flash taking in just $75 million, ten million below the softest estimate. If The Flash plays along projected lines for a film with a lackluster opening weekend and poor word of mouth—which the “B” Cinemascore suggests it will be—it will make less than $350 million, less than other superhero misses like Black Adam and Eternals. Given the budget for the film, estimated to be about $220 million, it stands to lose as much as $300 million for Warner Bros. Discovery. That is a colossally bad result for what they were hoping would be a marquee DC film that could bridge the Zack Snyder and James Gunn eras of storytelling.
So, what went wrong?
It's easy to blame it on Miller and their myriad tabloid troubles, but honestly, I don’t think general audiences know, or care, who Ezra Miller is. At most, perhaps they are known as “the person who plays the Flash”, but Miller is not, in and of themself, a box office draw. And frankly, neither is Michael Keaton. Bringing his Batman back was a play to one specific audience, the Gen X’ers and elder millennials who saw the Tim Burton Batman movies in the theater.
You can say that The Flash is a movie without stars, except that we’ve seen plenty of blockbusters thrive without stars. Benedict Cumberbatch isn’t a box office draw, and Doctor Stranger and the Multiverse of Madness made $955 million. Tom Holland isn’t a box office draw, and Spider-Man: No Way Home made $1.9 BILLION.
The bigger problem is likely the TV show. The Flash ran for nine seasons on The CW, it only just concluded on May 24, less than a month from the film’s premiere. The show varied wildly in quality over the years, but hardcore fans of the Flash, those most likely to run out and see the film on opening weekend, just had nine years of getting everything they want from the character. Maybe there just wasn’t any urgency to see a new take on something they just spent nine years watching.
Another factor: there are two well regarded superhero movies playing in theaters right now. Far from claiming “superhero fatigue”, I would say rather that The Flash suffers from superhero glut. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 remains in the box office top ten and has earned over $821 million (worldwide). Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is the #2 movie in its third week of release, pulling in over $494 million worldwide to date. These movies are legitimate hits that have, apparently, satisfied the audience appetite for superheroes (for now).
Further: Spider-Verse is a multiverse story, like The Flash, but it does it with far more imagination and fun than The Flash. The “B” Cinemascore given to The Flash indicates overall audience dissatisfaction with the film, and I wonder how much of that stems from audiences being bored by The Flash after just having their minds blown by Spider-Verse, and to a lesser extent, Everything Everywhere All At Once, which also approaches the concept of a multiverse with a lot of creativity. I don’t think it’s enough to just show alternate versions of characters standing around, doing nothing. After those movies, and even Multiverse of Madness, in which Stephen Strange at least interacts with those alternate versions, however briefly, I think audiences expect some effort to go into multiverse concepts. They’re expecting a wow factor The Flash did not deliver.
There might also be something to James Gunn announcing a reboot of the DC cinematic universe coming in 2025 with his new Superman movie killing momentum for The Flash. If you’re inclined to invest in cinematic universes, why get excited for something that might not matter in a couple years? I think a real element of The Flash’s failure is that even the hardcore superhero audience didn’t have much to care about here, between the TV show satisfying their initial jones for the character, and the upcoming reboot dispelling any sense of urgency or energy for this film. (Worried for Blue Beetle!)
I still don’t think we’re seeing superhero fatigue in audiences, but I do think after 20+ years of superhero cinematic dominance, audiences are savvier and won’t turn out for just any ol’ garbage. They have expectations, and if they suspect those expectations will not be met—or maybe if a long-running TV show has already met them—they will stay home. Also, everyone should seriously think about abandoning multiverse stories and pivoting to something else. There are only so many times you can say “superhero, but DIFFERENT” before audiences get tired of the schtick.