ByEileen McNulty-Holmes, writer at Creators.co
Movie Pilot Editor. Queen of grammar and graphic novels. Tweets: @eileenamholmes
Eileen McNulty-Holmes

Suicide Squad has been mired by scathing critical views, an unorthodox editing process and disgruntled stars. However, it turns out the Squad may not be 'worst heroes ever' after all!

Financially speaking, Suicide Squad is a bigger hit than many anticipated. Although many thought a dramatic second-week slump would damage the movie, Harley Quinn & co. have continued to garner big numbers internationally — and it's adding up. The Squad are about to pass $600m at the box office; a fact director David Ayer was keen to celebrate with fans on Twitter:

Although his celebration was a little premature (recent box office figures place the number closer to $585 million), the point still stands: Suicide Squad will almost certainly take $600m as it enters its fourth weekend in theaters.

Harley's heard the good news. Image: Warner Bros.
Harley's heard the good news. Image: Warner Bros.

To put this in perspective, Batman v Superman took $872 million globally- which means Suicide Squad still has a way to go to catch up with its much more famous cousin. However, it's worth bearing in mind that Batman v Superman — a tentpole of the DCEU — features much more famous characters, and the first hints of the Justice League. By all accounts, BvS should have blown Suicide Squad out of the water.

It may comes as surprise then, that BvS grossed $330 million in the US- where Suicide Squad has already grossed $267 million.

So, Is the DCEU Slump Real?

The DC slump has been around longer than you think. Image: Warner Bros.
The DC slump has been around longer than you think. Image: Warner Bros.

Much has been written on the 'DCEU slump'- an alleged curse, by which DCEU movies have a strong opening weekend, followed by a sharp decline in ticket sales.

Technically speaking, this 'slump' has affected DC movies since the '90s, when Batman Returns plunged 44% after its opening weekend. Even Batman Begins fell 43%. Domestically, Suicide Squad did indeed plummet in Week Two, but even in the US, they've managed to double their opening weekend takings- something which Batman v Superman failed to do. Given the relative obscurity of the characters and the continuing box office appeal, there's a lot of evidence to suggest that Suicide Squad can be considered 'more successful' than Batman v Superman - and that a second-week slump can still lead to a strong performance.

Is 'Controversial' the New 'Enjoyable'?

Joker's role- and lack thereof- was one of the key controversies. Image: Warner Bros.
Joker's role- and lack thereof- was one of the key controversies. Image: Warner Bros.

Suicide Squad likely had such a fantastic opening weekend because of the truly brilliant marketing. The trailers and posters were fun, lurid, and quite unlike anything we'd seen before. Once the reviews started pouring in, it became clear that this tone didn't carry through the entire film, and it seemed that the discouraging critical response would certainly turn some moviegoers off. So why do people keep seeing Suicide Squad?

Anecdotally, a reason that many of many of my 'non-geek' friends have lined up for tickets is morbid fascination over the controversy. They want to see the film about which The New Yorker said: 'To say that the movie loses the plot would not be strictly accurate, for that would imply that there was a plot to lose'. They want to see the behind-the-scenes editing drama unfold on screen; they want to see if Jared Leto is really only in a few minutes of the film. More broadly, whether you love it or hate it, Suicide Squad has been a huge talking point. It's one of the most widely-discussed cinema events of the year, and people want to know what all the fuss is about.

When you look at other films which have very similar 'legs' to Suicide Squad, a trend seems to become apparent. Suicide Squad doubled what it earned in its opening weekend, much like:

  • Green Lantern (earned 2.19 x opening weekend gross)
  • Fantastic Four (2015) (2.18 x)
  • Spider-Man 3 (2.22 x)
  • X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2.11x)
  • Batman v Superman (1.99 x)

For various reasons, all of these films went down poorly with either fans or critics. Most have controversial narratives surrounding them, whether it's the 'fan v. critic war' of BvS, or the behind-the-scenes drama of Fant4stic. There certainly seems to be a sizable market for flawed films; something about the controversy, and viewers wanting to 'make their own minds up', seems to put butts on seats.

The 'controversy' theory provides an interesting perspective on the modern blockbuster, but there are of course multiple reasons Suicide Squad had more staying power than many expected. As we've already discussed, the marketing was phenomenal; the cast had decent star power, and performances by the likes of Margot Robbie & Jay Hernandez have been widely praised. Word-of-mouth could play a key role here too- currently, the film has 68% fan approval, which certainly goes a way towards negating the critical backlash.

It is worth noting too that none of the multipliers above are phenomenal; to put them in perspective, Finding Dory has a 3.54% multiplier from its opening weekend. An adorable blue fish completely obliterates mass murderers, the wallcrawler and the Caped Crusader, from this perspective.

Don't be fooled by her cuteness- Dory means business.
Don't be fooled by her cuteness- Dory means business.

Can't get enough of the DCEU? We suggest...

What Can the DCEU Learn From Suicide Squad?

It has, perhaps, been said to death, but: humor is key here. The tipping point where Suicide Squad went from 'mildly intriguing spin-off' to 'must-see' was that trailer. As the music cut and Captain Boomerang opened up a tall boy mid-battle, Suicide Squad captured the hearts and wallets of millions. This trailer struck a perfect balance between being dark and gritty and being fun. In that sense, the future looks bright for the DCEU — the Justice League trailer from Comic Con seemed to be a powerful mission statement.

Of course, humor alone cannot sustain a franchise. One of the main things that piqued viewers' interest in Suicide Squad was the originality — between the plethora of villains and antiheroes, the aesthetic and the riotous action, it looked unlike anything we'd ever seen before. 'Superhero fatigue' may not be a reality at the moment, but given the rate at which new superhero movies are being produced, it's an inevitability. The only way to ensure that future film projects have 'legs' is to make them fresh, and keep giving audiences something they've never seen before.

Given the vast dimensions of both DC and Marvel- space travel, previously untapped species, multiverses, a wealth of astonishing characters, magic and mystery- giving us something new to feast our eyes on shouldn't be too much of a problem. Superhero stories remain some of the tallest tales on earth — bringing the fantastic to life is the key to the survival of the DCEU, and of the genre.

If the theatrical cut of Suicide Squad had delivered on the vibrancy and energy of the marketing, this may be a very different article; it may have had the legs to crush even BvS. As it stands, the vision & the marketing has taken Suicide Squad further than most thought it would. If the DCEU want to banish any voices of dissent, they need only deliver on the zest, thrills and colors of Suicide Squad's promos — and, of course, of the comics themselves.

What are you most excited for in the future of the DCEU? Let me know in the comments!

Image: Warner Bros.
Image: Warner Bros.