2016 was supposed to be a banner year for DC’s fledgling movie-verse. Things were set to kick off with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in March, which was billed as an epic battle between the studio’s two most recognizable and iconic heroes. What we got instead was a deeply flawed, albeit visually appealing chore of a story that scraped out a 27% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. When it comes to movie studios though, it’s the bottom line that speaks more to their priorities, and after DC saw a 69% box office drop-off from Batman v Superman‘s second week in theaters, it was clear that DC had stumbled out of the starting blocks.
Fast forward to the August release of Suicide Squad, and history has repeated itself for Warner Bros. and DC. A $133 million domestic opening was met by a precipitous 67% drop-off in the film’s second weekend, following an identical 27% Rotten Tomatoes score. Whereas initial buzz from fans buoyed a solid first week, we have a DC superhero movie falling right off of a cliff soon thereafter. Many people are blaming critics, as well as aggregate sites like Rotten Tomatoes.
The problem here is that Suicide Squad‘s dip in box office sales is neither the fault of critics or aggregates. The Hollywood Reporter even tries to point toward low aggregate ratings as the reason studios have seen so many second week dips in 2016. They cite the drop-offs for movies as varied as Alice Through The Looking Glass and Jason Bourne. However, that little green icon next to the Rotten Tomatoes score for Suicide Squad (among others) is merely a symptom of a larger problem: DC isn’t making good movies.
Fans can blame bad reviews all they want, but the bottom line here is that a collection of experienced entertainment writers each independently came to a single conclusion about a wildly problematic movie. As The Verge so aptly put it:
A reviewer’s job is to express their informed opinion about something, an opinion shaped from both personal experience and a historical knowledge of the medium. That’s exactly what happened here. There’s no conspiracy, no cabal intent on tearing DC movies down. A group of professionals charged with writing their opinions about what’s in theaters at any given moment separately came to their own conclusions, on varying degrees, that some or all of Suicide Squad doesn’t work.
So now that we’ve established that there’s no tightly organized Illuminati of reviewers dead-set on destroying DC for the glory of their Marvel overlords, let’s get to the crux of the issue. Warner Bros.’s penchant for massive second week drop-offs has evolved past “isolated incident” territory and plowed straight into a full-blown routine. The website Collider recently charted the most significant drop-offs for superhero movies and in doing so stumbled upon the fact that three of the four biggest drop-offs have come from DC: Man of Steel (64%), Batman v Superman (69%), and Suicide Squad (67%). (The fourth is 20th Century Fox’s Fantastic Four with a 68% drop-off.)
It’s always interesting trying to figure out what a studio learns following a disappointing box office take. Batman v Superman appeared to teach Warner Bros. a host of lessons, mostly involving the film’s grim, humorless tone. The problem they encountered in the days following Batman v Superman‘s release cascaded from there. As the result, the studio over-corrected in a massive way with Suicide Squad.
If you saw Suicide Squad and felt like it was a scattered mess, there’s a good reason for that. The Hollywood Reporter outlines a laundry list of line items that Warner Bros. meddled in throughout production. Multiple cuts of the film were being shopped around as late as May, David Ayer was given a six-week window to write the screenplay, and multiple editors were working on the film. The final result was a movie that was far from David Ayer’s original vision. Suicide Squad was sliced and diced by the studio in hopes of avoiding another disappointing box office run. Ironically enough, all Warner Bros. accomplished by doing this was sealing Suicide Squad‘s fate as yet another flop.
Breaking even financially promises to be a tough hill to climb for Suicide Squad. Most estimates claim that it’ll need to make somewhere in the $750 to 800 million range in order to make its money back, and that’s figuring in for the fact that the film won’t be releasing in the typically lucrative Chinese market. Given the reaction from Warner Bros. following Batman v Superman, we can only imagine how frantic things are after a second disappointing showing from the DC movie-verse.
Ultimately, it’ll be up to Warner Bros. to figure things out down the road. The ball is now officially in Wonder Woman‘s court for its 2017 release, followed directly by Justice League, and there’s a whole lot riding on both releases. If DC truly wants to offer an alternative to the already well-established Marvel Cinematic Universe, they’re going to have to strike a balance between correcting their mistakes, and allowing their filmmakers enough of a leash to be creative. It’s just a shame that Suicide Squad ended up turning into one of those mistakes.
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