It’s probably pretty common knowledge, at this point, that Warner Bros’ latest entry in the DC Extended Universe, Justice League, didn’t perform very well at the box office in its opening weekend business. It opened with just $93 million in the United States. That’s completely dismal. Now, I know $93 million may not seem like such a small number – until you put it into perspective.
First, let’s look at the other films in the DCEU. Batman v Superman opened at $166 million domestically in March 2016. That movie was said to be considerably boosted by the unions of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman in a live-action film for the first time. Even it couldn’t crack the $1 billion it could have made if it had gotten better reviews and word of mouth, but it got awfully darn close at $870 million. Then, Suicide Squad vastly overperformed that summer. It had been tracking at just $110 million but blew that out of the water with $133m. That was an abstract movie that starred lesser-known characters like Katana, El Diablo, Deadshot and Amanda Waller.
Even Wonder Woman will likely outgross Justice League – which is both good and bad. If you had said to me a few years ago, “A Justice League movie will do worse commercially than a Wonder Woman movie!” I would have thought you were on drugs. But that’s what’s turning out to be the case. Wonder Woman opened with $101 million, which is a few million stronger than Justice League. It had a 4x multiplier from week to week, meaning it barely lost any money in week-to-week drops. It ended with $818 million, making it the highest-grossing superhero origin film of all time and almost edging out Batman v Superman.
When you compare it to the MCU – which is impossible not to do; it’s the only other superhero cinematic universe, folks – this opening is ridiculously weak. The Avengers opened in 2012 with $192m. That’s almost $200 million dollars. And in terms of brand recognition and place in society, DC characters are much more well-known than Marvel. Everyone knows who Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are, as well as their most iconic villains. So the first movie where they work together as a team should be making Avengers level money, if not more.
Just in comparison to other films in the DCEU, Justice League should have opened anywhere from $130m to $170m. That would’ve put it in the same striking distance as Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. Even if it had come in on the lower side of that, it still would’ve had a chance at being profitable for Warner Bros. As it stands now, we barely know if they’ll break even, let alone make any serious profit from the film. And that’s a problem.
There’s good and bad news about this latest fallout. With all the negativity surrounding the DCEU of late, we’ll start with the good news: the DCEU is by no means over. Wonder Woman just made them a tremendous amount of money. Suicide Squad made even more. And not even just the box office – DCEU films generate tremendous revenue from toy sales, home video purchases, streaming and more. They can’t give up on DC, as much as some fans – sadly – want them to. It’s just too much of a cash cow.
But the bad news: Zack Snyder, and everyone involved with the Man of Steel trilogy, will probably have to go. That may not be bad news to some of you; some of you may be rejoicing that this means the DCEU creative team will finally “learn their lesson”. But to those of us that have really loved and championed his work, it’s a bitter pill to swallow. But some creative changes definitely need to be made; Warner Bros isn’t making nearly the amount of money they should be, and it’s painfully obvious.
More bad news: anything that isn’t having to do with Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, Cyborg and the Suicide Squad will likely be shelved for a while. Warner Bros. will likely focus their energy on solo films to build on the success of Wonder Woman and develop these characters more on their own before doing a Justice League sequel. And I think a sequel is likely – but it’ll be a long time before we get one.
So what should change? Some would argue that nothing should; I know there are people that think the DCEU is perfect and without flaws. I don’t agree, but I don’t think it’s as horrible as the media makes it out to be. I love Man of Steel and Wonder Woman; thought Justice League was great but had potential to be better; had problems with Batman v Superman but still enjoyed its message, and didn’t particularly like Suicide Squad. In my opinion, that’s only one flat-out bad film. The rest of them had great moments and really good things to keep my interest. But even I, as someone who has mostly enjoyed the DCEU, can admit something needs to change.
So what would I do if I were a Warner Bros. executive? Frankly, I’d get rid of Warner Bros’ CEO Kevin Tsujihara. He’s far too reactionary, and he’s much too concerned with trying to please everyone. Then, I would hire someone who understands that Warner needs to deliver on the promise they made at Comic-Con a few years ago – that they would allow the filmmakers to play with these characters and not restrict them or their vision. Because so far, with the exception of Man of Steel and Wonder Woman, they haven’t really done that.
Next, I would hire some really exciting and innovative talent to helm solo films for Flash, Cyborg, Superman and the Green Lanterns. They’ve already found a star in Patty Jenkins, who delivered a wonderfully constructed film for Diana of Themyscira. And it looks so far that they’ve done it with James Wan, who is bringing us the next DCEU film – Aquaman, in December 2018. What do you notice about both of these directors? They’re fresh, diverse voices in an industry that has been overwhelmingly white and male for far too long. If they can try and get Rick Famiyuwa back for Flash, I would; if not, hire someone else of color who could handle the property. And please, for the love of God, do not do Flashpoint and reboot the whole thing. There’s too much good here.
Justice League left me super excited to see more of Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, and I would be much more interested in a Cyborg standalone – especially if they could get Ava DuVernay to direct it. (Sounds awesome, doesn’t it?) They’ve already got a Wonder Woman sequel coming down the pipeline – which is almost certainly coming, thanks to the success of the first film – and Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot are both scheduled to return. And if I were them, I would be fast-tracking a proper Man of Steel sequel like no tomorrow. (JJ Abrams, are you interested?) But most importantly, Warner Bros. needs to realize that its fanbase does not exist in a vacuum. They’re not going to be able to please everyone – so they need to try their hardest to make good films that the majority of people enjoy, like Wonder Woman.
We know for sure that Aquaman is coming – it’s already been filmed, and Warner Brothers has spent too much money on the film to not release it at this point. Shazam! could still go out of production, but I find that unlikely. And Wonder Woman 2 and Suicide Squad 2 are both all but confirmed at this point, as both of their predecessors were huge successes.
As for Batman? Honestly, I’ve loved Ben Affleck’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne – but it’s clear that there aren’t many people who agree with me. So I’d get rid of him. I thought of the perfect loophole: Matt Reeves’s Batman trilogy could be prequel films, that take place during the 20 years we haven’t seen Batman in action. We could see his early years, with characters like Catwoman and Scarecrow. And complex stories not yet done in live action. I want an Arkham-style trilogy starring a new actor (Jon Hamm, please?) This way, Ben Affleck could still be Bruce in the current timeline – and could have the time to think about whether he wants to return.
Either way, DCEU fans – relax. The DCEU is not going anywhere. In fact, I think one could argue that it’s just getting started.