I’ve been tracking the woes of Warner Bros. for a while. Every year I make a pilgrimage to Hall H early on Saturday of Comic-Con to see what the Superheroes are up to and every time I’m forced to sit through agonizing previews for surefire turds like Pan, The Man from UNCLE and Skull Island. (Granted I did also get to see George Miller talking about Mad Max Fury Road and the Fantastic Beasts presentation, but those were the exceptions.) Now we can add King Arthur to the list of terrible, soul-crushing bombs from WB, as it flopped big time, coming in behind a movie starring Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn and making only $15 mil in its first week. And oh, it cost $300 million to make and market because someone thought that was a very good idea.
While now departed studio head Jeff Silverman is a convenient scape goat for this string of failed IP relaunches, everyone is doing a post mortem. IndieWire points out that director Guy Richie (who also made Man from UNCLE) doesn’t connect too much with the all important female quadrant:
The King Arthur legend has multiple elements, but among them is a love story involving the king, Guinevere, and Sir Lancelot. This version followed what most of director Guy Ritchie’s films focus on: men, and otherwise male interactions. Guin hardly exists.
So, we had a story that incorporated fantasy, swords, sorcery, and FX, but didn’t bother with romance or significant female characters. Sometimes you can get away with that in Marvel epics, Star Wars, or the J.R.R. Tolkien universe — but those are properties that are far better known and beloved. (And even they’re wising up.)
The domestic audience is increasingly driven by older females. But “King Arthur” relied on younger male viewers — and there weren’t nearly enough of them.
IN a world where women love Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, marketing manly men bashing each other with swords is not a hard sell, but King Arthur had some kind of gloomy, boy rises form the mud story line. Blerf. Will no one ever make a movie out of Kullwch and Olwen? That’s got talking trees, salmon and derring do.
Although this string of Silverman led disasters seems to be at an end, that leaves WB with what it always had: superheroes. And as Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad showed, although marketing and intense fan interest carried those over the profitability finish line, they were still awful movies.
And that brings us to Wonder Woman, perhaps THE MOST IMPORTANT SUPERHERO MOVIE EVER. Not only is it the first female led film in the modern superhero (post MCU) history, it’s a character that no one at the studio had any confidence in for decades and decades. Given their antipathy for the character and discomfort with female led films (former studio head Jeff Robinov didn’t believe in female led films, and you can be sure he wasn’t the only person who had that notion) fans have gotten antsy over a perceived lack of marketing for the movie.
Wonder Woman finally gets her own movie and the movie marketing machines for DC and Warner Bros. haven’t seemed to have chugged to life.
We’re less than six weeks out. There’s been more advertising for Justice League than the movie that’s supposed to kick off the whole JLU film arc. On Warner Bros.’ YouTube Channel, Wonder Woman has only three trailers to Justice League’s six. Where are the TV commercials and product tie-ins (yes, I know about Dr. Pepper, other ones please)? Batman and Supes both had their own breakfast cereal, so where’s my Wonder Woman cereal, General Mills? I’ve seen toys but no toy commercials.
It’s been pretty quiet out there, regardless of the fact that people have reacted positively to the little advertising that’s been released. The few trailers Wonder Woman has have garnered close to 60 million views. Imagine what would happen if the trailer were embedded on major entertainment sites and there were stories out there about the film?
While this lack of confidence in WB’s commitment to Wonder Woman is justified, given the ice cream slumber party history of the character’s handling, other outlets are saying, no this isn’t Suicide Squad, where that trailer was crammed down your throat for endless weeks because they knew it was bad. According to Vanity Fair, the marketing is on track:
So… is Warner’s really burying Wonder Woman? Five weeks is a long way out in movie-marketing land. Especially during the crowded popcorn season we’re entering. Let’s look at some data: according to iSpot, which tracks TV advertising, W.B. has spent $3,043,212 so far on ads for Wonder Woman. At five weeks out, the studio had spent $2,645,643 on ads for Suicide Squad. Wonder Woman ads aired during the Kids Choice Awards and the N.C.A.A. finals, and there were promotions for the film at South by Southwest and Wondercon. On Thursday—perhaps hearing the call from fans—the studio dropped two new trailers for the film, one heavy with action and another with wit.
So far, at least, Warner Bros. seems to be giving Wonder Woman a fair deal. But if the studio falters in its release, it’s clear there will be an army of braceleted fists shaking about it.
As it turns out, Wonder Woman actually has a larger marketing budget than Suicide Squad. The reason the marketing doesn’t seem the same is because… well, it isn’t. WB/DC has learned a lot about marketing these movies through the last few releases and even collected data about fans of female heroes from marketing Supergirl on CBS and CW.
The timing and placement of Wonder Woman’s marketing initiatives are intended to maximize return, meaning people who are already likely to see the movie aren’t going to see as much marketing. Obviously, that’d be a waste of money.
This newer marketing strategy isn’t the only way Wonder Woman is different from what we’re used to with every other comic book movie. Forgetting concerns over the timing and abundance of advertisements and simply looking a the posters and trailers for what they are, something becomes very clear: Warner Bros. is not remotely concerned with the marketability of a female-led superhero movie. Look up any poster for Wonder Woman and you’ll notice a trend. When the industry seems obsessed with cramming as many marketable names and faces as possible into every single movie poster, Wonder Woman does the opposite, exclusively featuring the Amazon hero front and center.
While I’d like to see a viral, bouncy trailer for Wonder Woman set to a Heart song as she slices and dices foes, WB is taking a more serious approach. Because, I’ll tell you one thing, the studio knows they can’t fuck this up. They need the DC Cinematic Universe to work. They need some good reviews after the BvS and Suicide Squad debacles, and they need people to like Wonder Woman.
WB is known for having a fantastic marketing department, and if Wonder Woman is a bit out of their comfort zone, they do seem to be making a sincere effort, atleast from where I sit. (I should note that this whole post is just me ranting based on my observations – no hard insider knowledge.)
Finally, they have a couple of other things going for them. Director Patty Jenkins has been a strong advocate for this film; she’s smart and passionate and comes off very well every time I’ve seen her speak.
More importantly, Gal Gadot has committed to this role. I was skeptical when her casting was announced, but she’s made it her own. She’s physically arresting, and in all the materials I’ve seen, she strikes the right notes of compassion, strength and general willingness to kick ass. It may work.
But it won’t work without you. Everyone who ever complained about there not being a Wonder Woman movie had better see this opening weekend. There are no excuses this time.
How’s it tracking? Well, kind of all over the place, but it ranges from $65 mil (ok) to $105 mil (not bad at all!)
The numbers come from a variety of reports published Thursday in the Hollywood trade press, including THR and Deadline — which have it on the low end — and TheWrap, which cites one “outlying” tracking service putting it at $105 million. (Going purely on instinct here, I’d call that a lowball. Put me down for something creeping up on $110 million, a prediction I feel pretty confident about after years of playing this guessing-game.)
Keep this in mind: Early box office tracking is not meant to predict a film’s outcome; it’s meant to guide a studio’s resource allocation in the late stages of movie marketing. If the bosses at DC/Warner Bros. don’t like what the numbers say today, they can amp up their efforts to goose the result for its June 2 release.
So we just don’t know yet. But I’ll say this, the box office figures on June 4 may well be the most important numbers in the history of superhero movies.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.