Home Publishers DC JUSTICE LEAGUE stumbles at the box office with $96 million opening

JUSTICE LEAGUE stumbles at the box office with $96 million opening

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With the DC Cinematic Universe, Warner Bros. tried to reverse engineer Marvel’s success. Rather than build each character that makes up the rich tapestry of that world through solo features via the Kevin Feige method, they instead opted to shortcut it through films introducing their heroes (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) and a large swath of their villains (Suicide Squad).

Both movies were critically panned, though they both were strong, if not exactly runaway, financial successes. But the general reception among the public, who were ravenous to see Batman and Superman finally share the screen together (what is probably the actual Avengers moment of this franchise), and paid for the privilege last year, has been one of apathy, and in some cases, disdain, after seeing the respective finished products. And despite Wonder Woman being one of this year’s biggest box office smashes, the lack of interest among the cinema-going public in the troubled sequel to Batman v Superman was made apparent this weekend.

Currently Warner Bros. is estimating that Justice League is going to gross $96 million domestically over its opening haul (including Thursday previews), a shockingly low number for the studio that just a week ago was tracking the film at $120 million. Just compare this opening cume to Thor: Ragnarok‘s $122 million from just a few week’s earlier – and it gives you a sense of just where WB’s woes are. They were outdone by the third-tier Marvel franchise. A troubling result to say the least.

At some point soon, I’m sure there’ll be some pretty well-sourced reports on Justice League‘s production and the behind the scenes wrangling that’s sure to follow. But right now, the question is, just what went wrong and how did this film not connect with the viewing public?

The easy answer seems to be, a lot of people saw Batman v Superman, didn’t like what they saw, and didn’t want more of it. And no amount of goodwill for Wonder Woman was going to curtail that; a film, which admittedly, saw its greatest success come through word of mouth, critical acclaim, and significant legs in subsequent weeks. None of which looks likely in Justice League‘s case, despite some critical appraisals, mine included, that see it as an injection of fun into the rather dour DC on-screen offerings.

There’s also a question of whether the marketing for the film may have been a miscalculation, offering trailers which didn’t really give prospective viewers a sense of the film’s story beyond its heroes hanging out and kicking ass. Admittedly, the former is the best part of Justice League, but when the general public is only really engaged in maybe one or two (probably just one) of these characters so far, that’s a really tough selling point.

And of course, there’s widely reported troubled production itself, which saw Joss Whedon step in to reshoot scenes, and restructure the film to fit in with the Studio’s demands for a shorter cut and zippier narrative. I have my doubts as to whether that had much of an effect really, as that starts to get a little inside baseball for your average consumer who really only pays so much attention to that kind of thing. (But I must say, it’s very odd to see a press tour with absolutely no director presence whatsoever. Snyder not being available is completely understandable, but it seems as if Whedon has totally divorced himself from his work here too. It’s a film that seemingly no one wants to own.)

On the other hand, thinking about buying a ticket on Fandango with a prominent 40% Rotten Tomatoes splat? That really doesn’t help.

Sadly, Justice League, despite being an improvement on WB’s 2016 superhero offerings, faced a perfect storm of public indifference and fairly cold critical reception and the empty seats at your local cinemaplex are the aftereffect. And with Pixar’s Coco releasing next week, it’s unlikely that WB’s reported $300 million+++ budget feature will be the choice for families over the Thanksgiving holiday.

With all that said, it begs the question, what’s next?

With Wonder Woman as big of a smash as it is, and Aquaman already having completed principal photography under James Wan and crew, rebooting all of this away simply isn’t in the cards. There were reports not too long ago that WB was already bracing themselves for this eventuality by refocusing their DC Films output on solo features, but still occupying a shared universe, with their oft-mentioned emphasis on directorial vision.

Between now and Aquaman‘s release in December of next year, they have a little over 12 months to lick their wounds and plan. Between that time, we know for certain that Shazam!, which has already found its two stars, will enter into and complete production, and Patty Jenkins’ highly anticipated sequel to Wonder Woman will also start shooting. As for what will happen with Matt Reeves’ Batman film? That really depends on when/how Ben Affleck exits from his obligations in the role.

It’s very clear at this point that Affleck is looking for a way out, even basically outright stating as such on the aforementioned press tour. Rumors are that Reeves is meeting with other actors for the role, and while many a fan has floated the idea that the announced Flashpoint could be used to switch out the man under the cowl, that more or less would lock the studio in to making what is basically another Justice League feature…but a really dark one. Two things that they clearly want to avoid at this point.

For years, we’ve asked what Marvel Studios do when they have to recast Iron Man or Captain America whenever Robert Downey Jr or Chris Evans want to step away from the role, and Fox is continually skirting that issue with Hugh Jackman and Wolverine, but it looks like WB will be dealing with it first. It may very well be a matter of one day Bruce looks like Ben Affleck and the next he looks like Jake Gyllenhaal or Armie Hammer or whatever actor long-favored by the studio Reeves decides is the best fit for his trilogy of Batfilms.

There’s going to be a lot of discussion and debate over the next few weeks and months, especially regarding the future of WB CEO and Chairman Kevin Tsujihara, who was instrumental in the final product that hit screens this weekend. But one guess I’m willing to take to the bank: if production hasn’t already begun or it isn’t a sequel to Wonder Woman, its future looks a bit cloudy right now.

Yet, it’s not all doom and gloom for their prospects, if their next three films are well received – and for example, Aquaman‘s production went by without a hitch, much like Wonder Woman‘s, Warner Bros could find themselves back on the right track. Make good movies and you’ll get good results, especially if you make a bunch of them in a row.

Shazam! could very well be the Superman movie everyone was looking for with Man of Steel, how ironic would that be?

 

37 COMMENTS

  1. Ben Affleck is easily replaceable as Bruce Wayne. There have already been five other actors to memorably play the character in live-action, and Adam West is the only one to ever become identified with the role… a hurdle the public got over almost 30 years ago. Affleck hasn’t even had a solo film as Batman. This isn’t like Steve, Tony, and Logan, which have “always” been played by Evans, Downey, and Jackman, in multiple movies with each of them as the only title character.

  2. “The easy answer seems to be, a lot of people saw Batman v Superman, didn’t like what they saw, and didn’t want more of it.”

    That may be part of it, but I think the bigger issue is, in trying to appease that potential audience they alienated the sure-thing audience in people like me. I saw MoS and BvS fiver or six times each in the theatre, plus home video purchases, soundtrack album purchases, and “Art of” book purchases. I saw “JL” once and I’m done. WB should have protected their base audience first. That’s the first rule of business and politics. Take care of the people who are your guaranteed customers and constituents. Instead, they ordered a hatchet job on the film and produced an incompetent Whedon-Johns “vision” that pleased no one.

  3. If the current WB management team had produced “Ordinary People”:

    “Needs more jokes. ‘Meet the Fockers’ was also a movie about families. Why can’t ‘Ordinary People’ be more fun like that?!?”

  4. “That may be part of it, but I think the bigger issue is, in trying to appease that potential audience they alienated the sure-thing audience in people like me.”

    The problem is that a movie which appeals to that audience seems to alienate everyone else. Witness the staggering 69% dropoff which BVS suffered in its second week of release last year. That’s not bad reviews from the critics – that’s bad word of mouth. SUICIDE SQUAD and WONDER WOMAN were different enough that their box office chances weren’t majorly hurt by association, but JUSTICE LEAGUE is a direct sequel to BVS, and audiences simply had no interest in being burned a second time by Snyder’s take on characters who should be superheroes. You can personally disagree with that assessment, but you can’t argue with audiences and berate them into liking something they don’t.

    It’s not that Whedon came in and ruined the movie. It’s that he wasn’t brought in early enough to save it. There’s only so much you can do when most of the film has already been shot and you can’t start over from scratch.

  5. “in trying to appease that potential audience they alienated the sure-thing audience in people like me.”

    “BvS” made $166 million it’s opening weekend. If Justice League makes $70 million less its opening weekend, there is no to spin that. There is only one rational explanation for such a drop and it is the general public genuinely did not like what they saw the first time around and no amount of good feelings from “Wonder Woman” could change that.

    Mike

  6. I’m going to try and see it tonight.

    I’ve waited for this movie since 1975. If it had stayed a pure Zack Snyder movie I might well have skipped it.

    I’ve been more of a DC guy than a Marvel guy since I started reading comics. That said, the Marvel movies are pretty consistently big fun. And BvS:DoJ gave me a headache. It was unrelenting grim and humorless. The stars were fine, except maybe the guy who played Lex Luthor, but the script was a big mess.

    I even borrowed the director’s cut from the library to see if that made it any better. IT did, but I still came away with a headache.

  7. This doesn’t help hopes on the Han Solo movie which was mostly shot and they brought Ron Howard in at the last minute to fix things…? Oh boy. I got a bad feeling about this.

    Hated Man of Steel and I never got through Batman Vs Superman all the way. I turned it off when Wonder Woman showed up and the tech music started and said “Fuck this” and turned it off. Never saw Suicide Squad as it looked lame and did like Wonder Woman till the end of it. I’ll wait for the DVD of Justice League.

    I’d rather they had made a movie of Alex Ross’s Justice mini-series which was basically a more adult version of Superfriends in tone.

  8. Count me in for one who couldn’t get past the flawed premise of Killer Superman with MOS. Any of the DCEU to come after that were just more Tales from Earth-F.

    Haven’t seen Wonder Woman yet. Did see Thor today and I see where the success is coming from with that one.

    Perhaps general audiences are becoming a bit more discerning. Faith in humanity +100

  9. Worst part of Avengers, Wonder Woman, Man of Steel and BVS

    Pixel smashing.

    Audiences were beaten senseless by endless CGI cut scenes.

    The Legion of Doom – Finally human characters to fight!

  10. Damn there are already rumours that after this Time Warner is offering to sell/spinoff Warner Bros to allow it’s sale to AT&T instead of Turner.

    Plus with Fox wanting to sell most of itself including it’s film division and Viacom/Paramount and Sony on life support the only big Hollywood film studios that will be left are Disney and Universal.

  11. “But right now, the question is, just what went wrong and how did this film not connect with the viewing public?”
    Blah blah blah blah blah.
    C’mon. It made $96 freakin’ million.
    Look, if you saw it and liked it, great. If you didn’t, that’s too bad.
    But seriously – I just turn on my computer and scan a couple comics sites or mainstream regular news sites and it’s like everyone just can’t wait to claim Justice League is a failure.
    It looks exciting. I like Affleck as Batman. I’m looking forward to seeing it.
    I’m sure it will make enough for there to be a sequel.
    So what’s the point in focusing on whether it did as well as expected?

  12. “So what’s the point in focusing on whether it did as well as expected?”

    I believe the common estimates for the budget of “Justice League” is $250 to $300 million dollars. Add in all the cost of promotion and divide up the profit between everyone involved and the traditional standard is that a film needs to make double its domestic production budget to be a success. Global box office can help but there are even more people taking their cut of that money. So, $96 million is not that much given the scale of financial investment and expectation here.

    There’s also the issue that some people like to champion the Snyder-verse approach to super-heroes, while others abhor it. You can’t expect the latter group to pass up the chance to claim validation.

    Finally, “Aquaman” has finished most of its filming and we’re getting another “Wonder Woman” movie no matter what but a lot else about the DCEU is still up in the air. Production on “Shazam” is supposed to start but what if “Justice League” box office just falls off a cliff? What if “Aquaman” underperforms?

    Mike

  13. I saw Justice League today at noon and I was the only one in the theater. It was a terrible movie. The League are the premier super team. The heroes have a sense of awe and pathos that is unparalleled. This movie was so opposite of that prestige. Flash falls in Wonder Woman boob joke? Ben Affleck is a terrible Batman. Steppenwolf as a villain? I can’t believe how much of a train wreck this movie is.

  14. WB should use Flashpoint to do a Crisis moment and reboot the whole universe with new actors and a Superman who doesn’t murder people.

    I haven’t seen Justice League and will likely skip it. I’ve given Snyder enough chances and bar Dawn of the Dead, all his films have been terrible. Halfway through BvS, I said never again.

  15. The DC movies have been a strange mix of fan service (superficial, at that) and re-positioning that was never going to give them many places to go.

    i mean, who goes to see a major franchise superhero movie to feel depressed at society? It seems to me that potential audience has very little understanding or love for the characters being twisted into that.

    This was a case of WB trying to jump to the end way too fast. Marvel gave itself a nice run up before Avengers, and established a fairly consistent tone for its properties (with a little diversity as appropriate).

    Seeing Fascist Batman without the history and development in Dark Knight Returns first episode made him seem like a sociopath. And, for a great detective, he was a complete bag of hammers. But telling a story isn’t Snyder’s thing.

  16. I can’t understand why Daniel would say that the movie makes “no sense from scene to scene.” It has a few minor plot holes– like, how did Aquaman unerringly track the other heroes to their underwater location– but it isn’t close to having any of the truck-sized plot holes found in BVS, MAN OF STEEL or WONDER WOMAN.

    If one wants to complain that it lacks visual stylization, sure,. In terms of style, BVS has it all over JL. I’ve even argued that the script for BVS was an interesting juxtaposition of material from two very different works, DEATH OF SUPERMAN and DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, adjusted for the purpose of birthing the tentpole franchise.

    http://nummtheory.blogspot.com/2016/04/batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justice-2016.html

    But it’s still a movie with a lot of flaws. Maybe JUSTICE LEAGUE simply doesn’t attempt as much, but it seems to be trying to give fans what so many of them SAY they want (only to not give the film a chance in the clinch).

  17. DC needs to get out of the Zack Snyder business and just try a new director with a completely different vision for how these Super movies should be. The previews alone were a yawn fest.

  18. I haven’t felt comfortable taking my kid to the relentlessly dour and dark DC movies, and so now, with lighter Wonder Woman and now Justice League, he has no interest in seeing DC movies that I AM comfortable taking him to.

    He’ll see every Marvel movie that comes out though. Eagerly.

  19. Superman’s mouth sums up the entire DC film universe for me. Awful and hard to look at.

    JL was another poorly made film in a long line of poorly made DC films. WW is the only exception. Its not a great movie, but it was competently made, at least. No one should be shocked that this movie tanked. BvS was an overly dark, poorly edited, piece of hopeless trash that connected with only the fan boy’s. How they let Snyder direct JL after BvS, let alone after MoS, is the reason WB is in the place they are today.

    And for the folks that respond “but they had a mother box, and I never thought i’d see that on screen!”…yes, I get it. There are cool things that you have always wanted to see in a movie. But, those things can not exist in a vacuum. They are in scenes that are terribly written, acted and edited. JL and BvS are turds with shiny quarters stuck to them.

  20. I like the DCEU movies, and FOX’s new wave of x-men movies. I like how they interact, act well as trilogies with good character arcs and other overlap elements that work well in a trilogy-type way. And beyond that, the design, ideas and vision in these films are interesting.
    Comparing what I perceive as Marvel formula to what I like about these DC/FOX movies… I like the Marvel movies but I’m infinitely glad these other comanies are putting out different – and in some ways more compelling – artistic visions (I’m with Liefeld).
    Re Justice League, I wonder what we would have got with a different musical score. I’m happy with the movie, and will rewatch it. For me, I liked the parademons more than the qitari from Avengers, and I didn’t mind JL borrowing from LOTR/Tolkien.

    Still dislike Suicide Squad though.

  21. …and I LOVE a Lex Luthor that quotes Lolita particularly, is a hyper and evil Mark Zuckerberg entrepreneur, and alludes to heaven and hell withi classical painting and without. Another Gene Hackman pastiche would have been terrible, and it did not really work for Kevin Spacey.
    Also, I like Affleck (and enjoyed the carryover from BvS re Batman’s apologetic and figuring his own role in the league, and relying on WW), but even more so I like the art behind the choices made. I’m sure a new Batman will be good in line with the presence of an artistic vision, just as has been the case under Snyder.

  22. I (and the audience I saw it with) responded to:

    All the Flash jokes.

    The slo-mo confrontation of Superman and Flash.

    The Bats-WW almost-romantic moments.

    And best of all– for me–

    The expectation that we may finally see an impressive live-action film pitting a gang of superheroes against a gang of supervillains. (Was only mildly impressed with the supervillain action in X-MEN.)

  23. Saw it on Sunday evening. The theater was reasonable crowded for a Sunday evening.

    I liked the movie. It’s flawed, but a huge improvement over the previous one.

    That said, given the reviews I might have stayed away or waited for it on video except Justice League.

  24. I put the blame for the DCEU film problems squarely with Zach Snyder, whose “grim and gritty at all costs” approach has been a real turn off for both die hards and casual viewers. Hopefully now that Geoff Johns is the architect the ship can be righted.

    Justice League is one of the most schizophrenic films I’ve ever seen; clearly the work of two different directors pulling the film in two different directions. Despite all that, I had fun. It was the first time I felt that Cavill was playing Superman, rather than the tortured figure that Snyder presented us with (and I agree with the above comments. Superman DOES NOT KILL, no matter what John Byrne might have told us. That alone discredited MOS in my eyes.) Ezra Miller’s Flash was a delight. Gal continues to rock as Wonder Woman, and this might be the first time I’ve ever really enjoyed Aquaman up on screen.

  25. Pretty nuts when a movie can open at No. 1 and still be considered a disappointment, because it didn’t make $100M in its first weekend.

    I saw it yesterday and had a good time. Maybe it helped that I went with low expectations. I didn’t expect a masterpiece and didn’t get one. But it was acceptable popcorn entertainment, mainly because of the likeable performances (although Amy Adams is pretty much wasted. Her appearance screamed “contractural obligation”).

    Structurally the movie is a bit of a mess, but that’s typical of these expensive franchise movies, including the recent Star Wars and Marvel movies. These movies cost so much to produce and market, they have to appeal to the largest global audience. So they end up being made by committee, with frantic last-minute reshooting (often by someone other than the credited director; much of Rogue One was reportedly reshot by an uncredited director).

    And we end up with cartoonish CGI that needs more time. But these movies usually HAVE to make their announced release date, because the tie-in merchandise will be in stores and Burger Kings by that date. So they go into theaters, ready or not.

    I appreciated the lighter tone of Justice League. Heck, even Batman cracks a smile or two. And Superman, who SHOULD smile, finally did. The people comparing this to “Batman ’66” or “Batman and Robin” are, I assume, young guys who think dark and humorless equals important and adult. These are superhero popcorn movies. We’re not talking about Bergman or Bresson here.

  26. I assume Whedon overhauled the screenplay, because he got a co-writing credit. Ezra Miller’s comic-relief Flash seems to have stepped out of an old Buffy episode. I’d guess Whedon wrote most or all of his dialogue.

  27. I think it all boils down to tone. It’s not that Marvel films are any better than DC films, it’s that they had the courage to be the Cannonball Run of superhero movie franchises. Everyone loves those end credit outtakes of Burt flubbing his lines and slapping a laughing Dom DeLuise and watching Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr as drunk priests. That is basically the MCU in a nutshell. It’s funny and cool in spite of all the millions of other problems. You don’t go see a comic book movie for the same reasons you go to a Hitchcock retrospective. Audiences know this, Kevin Feige knows this, Marvel/Disney knows this, MCU film directors know this. DC and the directors of the DCEU films do not know this. Also, Marvel has a history of keeping it’s promises to audiences. It’s so proud of the fact it keeps it’s schedule of “Phases” that they happily promote it every chance they get. Marvel is like the Bond franchise in that it’s created a sense of comfort with it’s consistency and continuity both in it’s look, tone and scheduling. There’s an undefinable sense of comfort to general audiences who don’t care at all for comic books and who probably won’t ever buy a comic. They’ve earned an incredible amount of goodwill with this tactic and that’s the reason that even their worst films are fairly successful with audiences.

    As for Whedon, he is simply stagnant as a director. He doesn’t do anything with JL that he hasn’t already done with the first two Avenger films. That includes new jokes. When you look what Gunn and Waititi and even Favreau have done, Whedon’s efforts just look tired, old and white.

    As for Wonder Woman, I’m glad it was a success but I hope Jenkins doesn’t translate that into lets do more of the same because that movie has serious problems. Chief of them being, what 10 year old girl cares about the early 20th century geopolitical landscape? I know my 8 year old daughter doesn’t. There were a handful of relatable scenes and engrossing action with Gadot. Outside of that there were many bored and uninterested kids in that audience. It also suffered from the same thing that JL suffers from, a boring villain. Hopefully next time we’ll see something much more female centric, with female villains, more female supporting characters and some actual character moments with the Amazons. I’m not interested in seeing more of what we got in the first film.

  28. Re: “As for Whedon, he is simply stagnant as a director. He doesn’t do anything with JL that he hasn’t already done with the first two Avenger films.”

    Whedon was not the director of JL, he was a last-minute script doctor and fix-it man, doing his best to turn a lemon into lemonade, and IMO doing a rather good job. Don’t blame Steppenwolf on him!

    Re: “Whedon’s efforts just look tired, old and white.”

    Ageist and racist much?

  29. None of these movies really appeal to me, greatly. Lots of action, a rollercoaster ride of over-sized muscular hunks hitting each other, and some…’spectacle’. All of this is just…standard. The characters, how they are treated, interact…THAT is what’s interesting, not the big fight scenes or big finishes.

    The Flash had all the best lines, I think. I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it. I was moderately entertained, but no more than with GotGalaxy or Avengers, to be honest.

  30. I’m not really sure why anyone except media execs are concerned about the money any of these movies make. Good movies and bad movies alike have the potential to make or lose big money. “Justice League” is a fine enough movie to be enjoyable, so that’s all that matters to me.

  31. I would just be happy with a story that resonates longer than 10 minutes after the movie is over, but that seems to be very low on the list of studio priorities.

  32. I saw it today, (black Friday) in a theater that was less than half filled. The audience was mostly unresponsive, compared to the Thor audience a few weeks ago where laughter and cheers were heard during the entire showing. Also the multiplex was packed, people just weren’t there for JL, they were there for the new Pixar flick, tons of kids standing in line. My own review I liked it better than BVS or Suicide Squad but that’s a low bar. Except for Wonder Woman I didn’t find any of the characters all that interesting. Flash running scenes looked more convincing on TV, he also seemed to act like Peter Parker more than any version of the Flash I’ve ever seen. Aquaman looked like the Peter David version but acted like a Thor/Conan mashup, and they got his powers wrong. (he talks to fish, that’s kinda his thing, no only do they not show him doing that, but he tells Batman that he doesn’t talk to fish, he talks to Water, huh). Ben Affleck already looked bored in the role. Superman actually acted like Superman once he was resurrected, (a result of Whedon’s reshoots I’m sure) but after 3 movies it comes off as to little to late. Cyborg was a snore, potential there but between the actor and the way the character was written it was a snore. Also I see no reason to add a Mother Box to his origin. Oh and they managed to take one of the more boring members of Jack Kirby’s New Gods and made him even more boring, also stupid. We’re told he attacked earth eons ago but was banished, and then for no reason we are ever given he waited till there were super powered people capable of defending the earth to attack again. That’s just a plain stupid villain. Overall I can see why people are avoiding it. It’s not a horrible movie, but it certainly isn’t a great one.

  33. “JUSTICE LEAGUE stumbles at the box office with $96 million opening” $400 M both domestic and international after two weeks. My theatre, a week after release, was packed and the entire audience enjoyed the movie with applause at the end.

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