Welp, the autopsies of The Flash box office failure are coming thick and fast, and one imagines James Gunn, Peter Safran and David Zaslav are all reaching for king-sized bottles of Excedrin to quell their resulting headaches. Of course it wasn’t really their headache originally: The Flash was green-lit three studio regimes ago, they were just along for the ride.

However, as THR’s Pamela McClintock points out, by doubling down on how amazing the movie was supposed to be, Zas and Co set themselves up for a fall with all that “greatest superhero film ever made” talk. And industry experts are left scoffing:

“It is unfathomable to me why Zas and James Gunn promise how wonderful any picture or new plan will be months into the future. The public doesn’t care and isn’t aware of their prognostications,” one veteran studio executive tells The Hollywood Reporter, noting that such forecasts don’t sway the share price or potential buyers. “Let the product talk.”

While some are wondering why the budget-conscious Zaslav didn’t just sweep The Flash under the rug, others feel he was just making a reasonable bet.

Comscore’s Paul Dergarabedian is somewhat more forgiving, noting, “The Flash unfortunately had a rough road to the multiplex and given the complexities and challenges of the marketing and positioning of the film in the marketplace, the number one debut is actually a solid result for the latest from DC Comics in such a crowded and competitive summer season.” 

Variety’s Adam B. Vary looks over the “rock and a hard place” WB found itself in with the lame duck DCEU slate and problematic star Ezra Miller, calling it a “$1.1 billion problem.” With Blue Beetle and Aquaman 2 still in the queue, the headache only intensifies. Vary also raises the familiar threat of superhero fatigue – but not just superhero fatigue, specifically multiverse fatigue!

Perhaps most ominous for Warners, however, is the possibility that audiences are becoming blasé about cinematic universes altogether. There have been at least 55 movies based on comic books in the past 10 years alone, most of them part of interconnected mega-franchises that depend on fans flocking to them no matter which superhero is in the title. Not only does “The Flash” reference events and characters in everything from “Justice League” to “Aquaman,” but it relies heavily on the climax of 2013’s “Man of Steel” for its own final act. Similarly, Marvel’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” drew from several past films and the “Loki” TV series; moviegoers shrugged.

“When you have a film set in a multiverse, it’s asking the audience to recall past films instead of shutting off their brain and enjoying what’s in front of them,” says Exhibitor Relations analyst Jeff Bock. 

Against this theory: the current critical and box office success of the very, very multiversal Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. Maybe it’s the execution that matters? Indeed, Variety’s Owen Gleiberman argues that “Superhero Fatigue Is Real. The Cure? Make Better Movies Than ‘The Flash”:

After being saturated in this stuff for so long, why wouldn’t we all have superhero fatigue? Every genre gets old, the way that even the most invincibly popular TV shows get old. That’s why movies are always changing. The big splashy Hollywood musical was a form that once seemed eternal… until it wasn’t. In the age of comic-book movies, it often seems like comic-book movies will be big forever. The truth is: They’ll be big… until they aren’t. Are we now at the tipping point of that moment?

It’s possible, but with a major caveat, a qualification that lovers of cinema should actually embrace. And that is: Good comic-book movies, though they don’t happen every day, will still bring out audiences and excite them. One need look no further than to the success of “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” a movie innovative enough, as image poetry and as storytelling, to restore one’s faith in the human idiosyncrasy of the comic-book genre. The film’s box-office performance is a striking contrast to that of the movies I mentioned above. “The Batman” was a major movie that majorly connected, and while I’m no big fan of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” there’s no question that it’s a success. I would argue that the affection for the “Guardians” series is so intense that that concluding chapter will go down as one of the last of the old-school comic-book-film triumphs.

The job of defending The Flash (or at least its battalion of dead star cameos) has been given over to Kevin Smith, of all people. .

Smith made it clear he had no problem with The Flash using CGI to resurrect Reeve, The Adventures of Superman’s George Reeves and the 1966 Batman TV show’s Adam West, in an interview with Rolling Stone. “It didn’t bother me all,” the filmmaker and comic book creator said. “I thought it was just a really nice homage to the past. It didn’t feel like an insult. That felt like an homage. Some people are like, ‘Yeah, but they’re not alive to say yes or no.’ And you know, I don’t know any actor who would be like, ‘Don’t use my image when I’m dead.’ Like, you don’t go into this business to try to be shy, right? You want to be seen.” Smith added that he gives “the world permission” to include his likeness in “anything” after he’s dead.

It should be noted that DC isn’t alone in its gloomy box office prospects: Pixar had its second major flop in a row with Elemental, which has everyone wondering why the once-ascendant brand is floundering so badly, writes the NY Times’ Brooks Barnes.

Questions about Pixar’s health have swirled in Hollywood and among investors since last June, when the Disney-owned studio released “Lightyear” to disastrous results. How could Pixar, the gold standard of animation studios for nearly three decades, have gotten a movie so wrong — especially one about Buzz Lightyear, a bedrock “Toy Story” character?

Maybe pandemic-worried families were not quite ready to return to theaters. Or maybe, as some box office analysts speculated, Disney had weakened the Pixar brand by using its films to build the Disney+ streaming service. Starting in late 2020, Disney debuted three Pixar films in a row (“Soul,” “Turning Red” and “Luca”) online, bypassing theaters altogether.

Disney and WBD’s reliance on quick turnaround to streaming definitely hurt all their brands, but Disney in particular seems to have been stumbling with movies that don’t have a clear point. Throwing in my own two cents: I have no idea even now what either Elemental or Disney proper’s own box office flop Strange World were about. Something something family, something something boy meets girl? I guess? Granted, it would have been hard to describe the plot of Ratatouille, one of my all-time favorite animated movies, but “Chef is aided by a rat that can cook,” seems a pretty strong logline compared to some of these movies.

The world has changed. The Flash was never going to succeed given its tortured history, but Pandemic-era habits and post-Pandemic habits are very different. As Super Mario Brothers, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and Across the Spider-Verse show, you can get people to leave their home and pay $20 for a movie if it’s genuinely entertaining.

Gleiberman is right: too many of these expensive flops are made just to fill slots on a schedule, made with technical skill but as predictable as an episode of a Chuck Lorre sitcom. People enjoyed the multiverse cameos of Spider-Man: No Way Home, because Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland are beloved stars. Nobody loves Ezra Miller.

Even more, The Flash movie indirectly echoed the continuity nerds who presented Earth-One and Earth-Two in the very first new era superhero story, “Flash of Two Worlds.” The source material, Flashpoint, was created to mend yet more continuity errors in the published comics. It was good for what it was (I enjoyed it) but maybe this whole idea is too niche to appeal to mass audiences.

Marvel’s massive content factory ruled the roost for a while, but that era is ending. Maybe it’s already ended (I’ll let you know after I watch Secret Invasion.) I think superheroes will be around for a while yet, but with Marvel tapping the breaks, the streaming model in shambles, and restless audiences seeking new thrills, it’s a whole new ballgame. As ever in Hollywood, nobody knows anything.


  1. How is everyone missing the point that CW “The Flash” did an entire season on Flashpoint, wasn’t there a better original idea for the movie? I don’t need to see a movie version rehash a story that has already been done on the CW show. DCEU’s first mistake, dividing the DCEU Universe without continuity with the TV shows on CW. Grant Gustin has 7.9 million followers on Instagram, Ezra doesn’t even come close…the new DC pitches a younger DCEU but ignores social media where the CW established themselves with that audience. Stephen Amell has over 6 million followers and Melissa Benoit almost 5 million…these numbers say fans loved them. The younger fans that DC claims they are going to try and appeal to, already have the actors they love. Now, you want to tell me there is another Flash, another Arrow, and another Supergirl, come on, you are dividing your fans…Marvel doesn’t do this, this is why the continuity matters. A multiverse with different actors playing the same roles is confusing. I don’t think there is superhero fatigue, there is bad tentpole movie fatigue. I always thought that Warner Bros. didn’t appreciate the brilliance of Greg Berlanti and his fellow exec producers on their work with the DCEU but to me, they were the most successful with the DCEU. Had the CW been taken more seriously instead of a second thought, who know what could of been….

  2. Good lord, if anyone doubted that the media has an ‘agenda’ against the Flash movie this pretty much confirms it. Raging about it endlessly somehow gives you validation for… whatever you’re dealing with, since it’s socially acceptable to hate it. Let it go, the movie bombed anyway and isn’t some abomination against humanity just because Ezra is “problematic.”

  3. Reposting this comment I made on another Flash article:
    Haven’t seen The Flash but looking forward to doing so.
    Disliked Snyder’s Man of Steel, the high body count, the neck-breaking. However, I think Batman Vs. Superman and the Snyder-cut Justice League are very entertaining films and work well together as one epic story. Different from the MCU. More stylish. Not necessarily the versions of these characters I want to read about every new comic day, but not the train wreck some fans/critics make them out to be, either. Honestly in a way they were far more interesting than Marvel’s movies, which I have generally enjoyed (even Ant Man 3).
    I do think that some critics of The Flash can’t get beyond Ezra Miller’s personal life. It’s like they wanted the movie to fail, rather than for its success to reward Miller (nevermind the hundreds of other peopel who worked on the project). If they were a really nice, squeaky clean actor would viewers be rooting for Miller and cut the film some slack? I really haven’t followed Miller’s issues. I liked him enough in Justice League. I like Michael Keaton. It’s gotten some decent to very good reviews. So, again, I’m looking forward to it.
    We are in a “too much of a good thing” moment. Between movies and television the last several years have just seen SOOOOOO MUCH comic book-related content. It’s mind-blowing, really. And that leads to some mediocre stuff. Some burnout. Some fans taking this all for granted. And that likely means that there is a dwindling audience, at least for now. But also we can’t go back in time. You can’t recaputure that feeling you had watching Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man for the first time or for the AVengers to finallyh gather on the big screen. Were those truly great movies, or was there just a lot of goodwill over the fact these characters had finally made the big time and the movies were competently made?
    I do think announcing the DC movie universe reboot while films like Black Adam and Flash were yet to be released was a mistake. I’m sure smarter people than me made that calculation. But that is what happens. Same in comicbooks. When a new creative team is announced for a title and their first issue is still months away, it does take some momentum away from the current creative team.

  4. For what it’s worth, saw it yesterday. Really enjoyed it.
    Thoughts in no particular order with spoilers:
    1. Ezra Miller does a nice job in duel roles. I wasn’t thinking the whole time, “This is the same actor playing opposite himself.” I’m not necessarily sold on this version of Barry Allen – the fast -talking goofball. But Miller handles the role well.
    2. Enjoyed Michael Keaton.
    3. Enjoyed Sasha Calle and would have liked a meatier role for her Supergirl.
    4. The opening made me long for another Justice League movie. It was action-packed but also light-hearted with Miller, Affleck and Godot reuniting for I guess the last time. Nice way to start off.
    5. The rescue of the babies and the therapy dog and the nurse was well-handled. Maybe the effects were a tiny bit lacking in terms of the babies, but, again, nice way to introduce or re-introduce the Flash.
    6. Having the therapy dog back in the credits was a really creative idea.
    7. Hypertime!!! I’m still deciding if I liked how the filmakers chose to present the Speed Force and Hypertime visually/effects-wise. But the more I think about the movie’s use of the latter, from Keaton’s spaghetti explanation to other DC film/tv franchises having their own seperate earths, the more I love how the decision was made to use Hypertime in this film.
    8. I don’t get the debate over whether it was approprate to use CGI versions of Chris Reeve or George Reeves or Adam West. These are iconic versions of iconic characters. This isn’t about reviving some dead actors for a brief cameo. Thought it was fun.
    9. I could take or leave Nick Cage’s Superman, though. Honestly, I would have rather that time been given over to OTHER film/tv versions of DC characters.
    10. I liked how the film showed what Barry was up to during Zod’s original invasion in “Man of Steel” and how he was just starting out and regretted not being able to save more lives.
    11. I think the “Flashpoint” comic is kind of a mess in part because writer Geoff Johns decides to make adult Barry who has decades of experience do a stupid thing by going back and trying to change time. In the context of “The Flash” though it makes sense because THIS Barry Allen is still new at the superhero game. Time travel is new to him. So the temptation to mess around with the past to heal his broken family is more forgivable.
    12. I didn’t hate Clooney’s appearance but it kind of confused things. Were we meant to take it as Barry still hadn’t fully repaired time? Or was he on another parallel earth/reality? I’m leaning toward the latter based on the post-credits convo with Aquaman, but could have been clearer.
    13. Little touches, from the confusion of who starred in “Back to the Future” to the new slang word alternate Barry uses, “beeves”, were fun.
    So overall a fun movie and not a bad way to wrap up the Snyderverse.
    I do see, though, how it is perhaps a difficult sell for mainstream audiences. It really is a follow up to a series of films that were divisive and did not perform exceptionally well. It’s as if it exists in its own little Hypertime corner where “Man of Steel” and “Batman Vs. Superman” and “Justice League” all did HUGE box office and this is the natural follow up and expansion of that cinematic universe.
    Also the callbacks, from Keaton’s return to Nick Cage to Superman and Batman TV shows of the ’50s and ’60s are really deep cuts for younger audiences.
    It was intended as a summer blockbuster but in a way feels like a niche film for the die hard fans. That might be its biggest problem, but I’m glad it was made and I saw it.

  5. When a movie feels like homework this much, without the added treat of actually b being good, it was never gonna do so hot.

  6. It IS good. But yeah, you need to do some homework to really appreciate it. Marvel’s films have been hits so it’s not as much work for their fans when each successive one relies on more and more backstory. DC’s films not as much, at least most of the modern ones The Flash builds upon (“Man of Steel”, “Batman vs. Superman,” Zach Snyder’s 4 hour straight to HBO “Justice League” cut). I think that is one of the biggest strikes against it performing well with a larger audience. There’s just no getting around that it is being released at a very weird time in the DC film universe.

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