Warner Bros. had dearly hoped that Justice League would mark the turning point for the DC Extended Universe, which — aside from the critically acclaimed Wonder Woman — has been struggling to find a firm footing ever since it was launched in 2011. Unfortunately, if the opening weekend is anything to go by, it looks as though viewers haven't been willing to turn out as hoped.
Justice League has dramatically underperformed in the domestic market. The opening weekend has seen the film gross $94 million. To any other kind of movie that number would be a hit, but this makes Justice League's opening weekend the weakest in the DCEU to date.
Worse still, this isn't simply a case of superhero fatigue. The most recent Marvel film, Thor: Ragnarok, grossed a thunderous $123 million in its opening weekend just two weeks ago. Of all the year's superhero movies, Justice League only beat the R-rated Logan, which was intended as a smaller-scale film. And even that was close, with Logan grossing $88 million in its opening weekend. There's no way to put a positive spin on these domestic figures.
Is There Reason To Hope?
That said, Justice League marks the latest divergence between the domestic and foreign markets. Although the film is still underperforming internationally, it debuted to $185.5 million from 65 markets, including $51.7 million from China. Foreign markets are becoming increasingly important to a film's box office success, and the Chinese market is key. But Warner Bros. can't always depend on the overseas figures to make up for the domestic shortfall.
Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros. president of domestic distribution, issued a statement to The Hollywood Reporter:
"Our path to box-office success is different than what we thought. Given the extremely lucrative Thanksgiving week, we have a chance to hold audiences and ultimately come in at a good level."
The success of Justice League really depends on whether or not it has "legs." If it can continue to perform in the box office, particularly over Thanksgiving, then Warner Bros. may yet have reason to relax. Unfortunately, as experienced critic and number-cruncher Scott Mendelson notes in an article published in Forbes, that doesn't seem likely:
"When recent history suggests that Justice League, even with the Thanksgiving holiday and the Christmas break, will be thrilled to earn a 2.26x (Man of Steel) to 2.35x (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part I) weekend-to-final multiplier, with a possibility of a 2x multiplier (Batman v Superman, the Twilight Saga sequels), an under-$100m debut is an outright disaster."
What's Gone Wrong?
The critical response to Justice League has been disappointing, with Rotten Tomatoes turning the release of their critic score into an event designed to leave fans and critics at war once again. That said, negative critical responses didn't seem to have much of an impact on the box office performance of Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad. There's no reason the average viewer should suddenly have started to be swayed by the critics now when it comes to the DCEU. Something else is clearly going on.
It's likely that Justice League's competition is a little bit too strong. Marvel's Thor: Ragnarok has only been out in the domestic market for a fortnight. This is actually the first time two tentpole superhero films have released so close to one another. Curiously enough, Marvel released Ragnarok up to a week earlier in most foreign markets. That additional week's gap may in part account for Justice League's stronger overseas performance.
But it's not just that Ragnarok is proving difficult to beat. The weekend saw other surprises, with Wonder an unexpected threat. Lionsgate's aggressively-marketed film came in over expectations, grossing $27 million in its opening weekend. Next week will see Coco hit the box office, and that's sure to put another dent in Justice League's takings.
Sadly, even this isn't enough to explain such a dramatic underperformance, and we're faced with the disturbing possibility that viewers simply aren't sold on the DCEU. Again, as Mendelson observes:
"Occam’s Razor suggests that folks didn’t like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice so they stayed away from the sequel. Like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, a retooled, lighter, more kid-friendly 'this is what the last film should have been' sequel was comparatively rejected because audiences sampled the last one out of curiosity and didn’t like it."
All of this is tremendously disappointing, given the effort Warner Bros. has put into using Justice League to effectively redirect their troubled franchise. An unusual film, Justice League was essentially a blend of the beautiful visual style of Zack Snyder and the character-and-humor-rich approach of Joss Whedon. Sadly, it doesn't look set to be a triumph for the #DCEU at this stage.
Did you see Justice League in its opening weekend? If so, what did you think of the film? Let me know in the comments!