I guess the cast of Entourage isn’t laughing now. Vanquishing both Mary Poppins and Bumblebee, Aquaman has been a hero at the box office, ‘its estimated $900m tale the largest for a DC superhero since Batman!
Wan’s Aquaman more than conquered the Christmas box office swim meet. The superhero tentpole finished Sunday with a shimmery global total of $748.8 million, guaranteeing that Aquaman will fly past $900 million by the end of its run and become the biggest Warner Bros./DC title since Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises earned $1.09 billion in 2012, not adjusted for inflation.
While Wonder Woman was a hit with $821.8 million worldwide in 2016, I hardly need remind you of the struggles of Man of Steel ($668 million), Justice League ($657.9 million) and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ($873.6 million). While these actual numbers aren’t that bad, the critical drubbing these movies received (not to mention Suicide Squad) negated any good feelings anyone may have had. Aquaman’s script is nothing to write home about, but the genial mix of spectacular action and humor that doesn’t mock its premise seemed to land with people. Aquaman is not dark and gritty, and people seem to like that.
The idea that Aquaman, so long a punchline, has become a feelgood hit must seem baffling to anyone not named Geoff Johns (take another victory lap), but there it is.
How did they do it? Director James Wan had a great feel for the material and what it could be (Lord of the Rings underwater). And Jason Momoa’s innate charisma and comfort being wet won over all kinds of moviegoers. As deadline noted, WB marketing caught on early to the fact that ladies liked this movie:
Similar to how Warners infused a sense of humor into their marketing for Meg, they also had some fun with Aquaman, capitalizing on Momoa’s allure and initializing the social media trend #MOMSFORMOMOA. This was in response to Warners noticing a viral meme that grew among moms online: They yearned to take their kids –or anyone’s kids– to Aquaman as an excuse to see Momoa. As part of the stunt, mommy bloggers attended an advance screening at the Grove with a surprise appearance by Momoa, complete with t-shirts and schwag. Partners for the event included Bustle and IMomSoHard. As early as San Diego Comic-Con 2017, Warners had unofficially crowned Momoa their Robert Downey, Jr. Much like that Iron Man actor would lead the charge into Hall H for Marvel’s annual mega movie panel, Momoa, fiery hair and all, was starting the for the studio at SDCC.
While The Mary Sue rightly pointed out this approach was a bit dated, let’s not throw out the very lovable baby with the bathwater either. Ladies like Jason Momoa and that is OK! But they don’t like him in the “hot tortured” hero way. He’s friendly, a big shaggy dog that came to your house to drink your beer.
Making a movie safe for moms is also a bit misleading. While the “bantering” romance in Aquaman was perhaps its weakest part, Nicole Kidman and Amber Heard did hold their own as characters. The most successful modern action films treat women like characters, not accessories, shallow idiots, blow up sex dolls, raging bitches, or flowers in need of rescue. Sure Momoa is smokin’, but he also is not a raging sexist asshole. Maybe women just want to be treated with respect. Crazy, I know.
As for Momoa, it’s interesting to note he’s flopped as a leading man before (Conan), but Aquaman seems to be a character he can fully inhabit. And his marketing has been genius, focusing on his personality and his Polynesian heritage in a completely authentic, honest way, as chronicled on Instagram.
Perhaps most lovably of all, Momoa has admitted he loves beer and hates staying in shape, and as the publicity tour continues, he’s in normal human shape, not an underwater superhero. Friendly!
I don’t have time to go over the DC movie universe’s incredibly tangled futrue plans, but as we enter 2019, we have no Batman, no Superman, and its two biggest stars are Wonder Woman and Aquaman, with Harley Quinn waiting in the wings. I don’t think anyone saw that coming!
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.