‘Birds of Prey’ Had the DCEU’s Worst Opening Weekend, But What Went Wrong?

Birds of Prey wasn’t exactly the box office predator many hoped it would be.

When fans discovered the long-term strategy for the DC Extended Universe, many wondered how that would work. Rather than building a shared universe piece by piece, the DCEU leaped right in with its second film, 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Hits like Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman followed, but overall, the road to Justice League and beyond was bumpier than anyone hoped. More recently, Warner Bros. has been sprinkling standalone releases such as Joker in with the DCEU. Along the way, DC Films has been cherry-picking elements that work and prepping others — e.g., Batman and Superman — for character reboots.

The DCEU might be evaluating which of its heroes need course-correction. But at least they don’t have to worry about Harley Quinn. Or do they?

Director Cathy Yan, screenwriter Christina Hodson, and the 'Birds of Prey' cast at the world premiere
Director Cathy Yan, screenwriter Christina Hodson, and the ‘Birds of Prey’ cast at the world premiere | David M. Benett/Dave Benett/WireImage

‘Suicide Squad’ gets a Harley Quinn spin-off (kind of)

Of all the DCEU movies to date, Suicide Squad is second only to Justice League for its notorious behind-the-scenes drama. Justice League fans are still obsessed with the Zack Snyder cut that might have been. But director David Ayer similarly lost creative control of Suicide Squad.

The resulting film earned $747 million at the worldwide box office. Even so, audiences weren’t exactly clamoring for more, especially of Jared Leto’s Joker. James Gunn’s 2021 release The Suicide Squad will essentially reboot its predecessor, bringing on a select few returning cast members.

The one aspect of Suicide Squad almost everyone agreed on was Margot Robbie’s knockout performance as Harley Quinn. The character’s bad romance with Joker notwithstanding, Robbie brought a gleeful unpredictability to the role. And in an instance, the fan favorite’s popularity reached another level.

Even before Suicide Squad‘s release, Robbie and Warner Bros. began exploring where to take Harley next. Rather than leading a straight-up Harley Quinn spin-off, the actress insisted on the ensemble approach. A Harley-led Birds of Prey movie then entered development, with Robbie producing.

‘Birds of Prey’ doesn’t quite soar at the box office

Coming off of Suicide Squad, expectations were fairly high for Birds of Prey. Alas, despite hopes it would hit around $50 million, the film earned $33 million domestically in its first weekend. The industry was quick to react, with certain male “fans” celebrating the movie’s perceived failure. But coming off of successes like Aquaman, Shazam!, and Joker, why did this DC Comics adaptation fail to live up to the hype commercially?

After all, Robbie had received widespread support for her performance in Suicide Squad. Then again, that movie was also anchored by well-known stars such as Will Smith, Viola Davis, and Leto. Moreover, it boasted a marketing campaign so slick the company who assembled the trailer was brought on to edit the entire film. That compelling pre-release footage just wasn’t a factor for Birds of Prey.

To non-comics fans, the title doesn’t carry a lot of weight either. So most moviegoers will have no clue who the Birds of Prey are until the film’s end. The studio tried to sell audiences a Birds of Prey film featuring Harley Quinn when, in actuality, Birds of Prey is Harley’s show from top to bottom. Some theater chains updated the film’s title online to better reflect this. But even Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey won’t make much difference at this point.

Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn will likely still return

Ultimately, the underperformance of Birds of Prey was caused by a variety of factors. Perhaps Robbie’s star and Harley’s popularity aren’t enough to overcome the potential drawbacks of an R rating. In a post-Logan, post-Deadpool, post-Joker world, the rating is no longer solely something we can blame. Besides, DC Films appears to be banking on future R-rated success.

Maybe even releasing the film while the similarly action-heavy sequel Bad Boys for Life was still doing so well was a bit of a miscalculation. Regardless, Birds of Prey isn’t nearly the disaster some reports are making it sound like. Director Cathy Yan’s film did earn $81 million worldwide its first week against an $85 million production budget. Of course, it still has to overcome marketing costs. But Birds of Prey will undoubtedly turn a profit.

It’s also not the last time audiences will see Robbie’s Harley Quinn, as the Oscar-nominated actress is already returning in The Suicide Squad. With any luck, her appearance there will clarify her future in the DCEU. As pitch-perfect as she is in the role, it would be a shame for Warner Bros. to downplay the character going forward just because Birds of Prey was merely a modest hit.