As expected Justice League and the DC Extended Universe has been subjected to wide-ranging scrutiny once again. Rumors and speculation about what had occurred behind-the-scenes in the Joss Whedon-led production after director Zack Snyder stepped down in the face of family tragedy. Many of the scenes in which Snyder had filmed were cut or re-shot which lead to the film being fittingly described as “a Zack Snyder film re-purposed as a Joss Whedon film.” This ultimately lead to the film receiving a mixed to negative critical reception, a mixed to positive audience reception, and a troubling $96 million box office performance. It had performed under what prior DC Extended Universe films. Now does all of this sound bad as you read it? Yes. It’s very alarming to the point that you will think that the film is going to be a $50-100 million loss to the studio and leave the future of the DC Extended Universe in question as a lot of sites have argued. However, I would like to disagree with this and offer a rebuttal to a lot of the points they made by re-examining things as they stand now.
From a critical standpoint the DC Extended Universe has never performed well critically outside of Wonder Woman earlier this year. That’s indisputable. A lot of the fans of these films know and have largely accepted that. They already knew that and weren’t expecting Wonder Woman to become such a well-praised oddity like it was. They didn’t expect Justice League to be well-received so they approached the long-awaited Rotten Tomatoes score with either caution or anxiety due to a well established trend. One that has never had a massive negative impact on the franchise based on the positive or mixed audience ratings it has on a lot of sites like Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB, and various other forums where people can share their support for whatever films they watch. These are not just people who read comics and have grown up loving these characters either from my point of view. These are people who are what you could maybe describe as simply “casual” or “mainstream” moviegoers who have never picked up the comics that also make their voices heard as members of the general audience. People just love the DC properties due to how relevant it’s always been imbued in popular culture worldwide for decades with films like Superman: The Movie and Batman Begins. Not to mention the very real fact that people just love superheroes and the escapist factor they provide too much to let it go by the way side. The general audience will voice their support for the DC Extended Universe and the whole of the comic book movie sub-genre if it means they can get more of it despite the films being flawed like any other work of cinema because they still largely do get some ounce of joy out of it.
Initially, Justice League was tracking for around $120 million according to Deadline which was never a fully positive figure since Suicide Squad made $133 million in it’s opening weekend while Man of Steel made $128 million. Now obviously tracking isn’t always a reliable or exact science as experts such as Scott Mendelson of Forbes have stated in the past but there are times when it can at the very least serve as an index of what it’s expected to earn and give studios a chance a way to find out how they can adjust their marketing strategies leading up to a film’s opening day. Unfortunately, I doubt Warner Brothers executives were happy to know that the film had made under what it was tracking for with a $96 million opening which lead to it performing below the other DCEU productions on their respective opening weekends in 2013, 2016, and 2017. However, more recent developments have been made that may provide a potential silver lining in all of this negativity that Youtubers and media outlets have been covering since last week.
According to Gitesh Pandya of BoxOfficeGuru, Justice League made a record-breaking 41% Monday to Tuesday increase which means it had a better jump than the other films from the same pre-Thanksgiving week over the past 10 years. Most of which were only capable of reaching mid-30’s and giving it a chance to reach $135 million. Gitesh further commented that it slightly dipped to 40% with $10.45 million and an overall cumulative of $122.4 million after 6 days with Thanksgiving holiday weekend business starting to kick up. Now here’s where things become increasingly positive for the film and it’s performance on the domestic front. On Thursday, it had a 19% drop to $8.5 million which had the film sitting at $130.8 million including Thanksgiving holiday. The total was going to reach $175-180 million after it’s second weekend and putting it below how The Avengers and The Avengers: Age of Ultron performed on their opening weekends. The second Friday lead to it falling to $16.5 million and the weekend is estimated to hit about $42 million from Friday to Sunday. The overall second weekend should drop by 55% and a $173 million cumulative over the course of 10 days. This second weekend drop is lower than the 69% drop that Batman v Superman suffered from last year but it’s giving the franchise it’s second best second opening weekend since Wonder Woman. Comparatively, if the drop stays within the 55% to 57% range then it will be performing better than 47% of the films within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Keep in mind that it’s largely doing this in the face of an uphill battle with Pixar’s Coco and no other major films releasing in theaters until December 15th.
On the worldwide front, Justice League has recently set a whole new national record in China’s box office. As expected, the film has gone on to make strides with the Chinese audience as the Los Angeles Times reports that Chinese debut sales for the film had made $52.1 million which set a new record in ticket revenues in 2017 which means it had surpassed the $7.55 billion mark. This is a sizable increase from last year’s $6.58 collection. This leads to a promising growth from the previous 3.7% to 15% increase. It’s also important to note that Justice League’s opening numbers in the country are 10% below what Batman v Superman had as well as 30% above what Wonder Woman had. These numbers bode well for the box office but even better for the Warner Brothers executives. At best this film will earn the standard 200-300 million domestic and $700-800 million worldwide that is expected of most of the DCEU productions. It certainly isn’t looking to be a $50-100 million loss like a wide-range of sources had exaggerated though based on the current projections even if it is not the huge run that people were expecting with a $1 billion stride. We must cool our fanboy expectations with that since the window closed for it last weekend as every dollar counts towards a million and a million towards a billion. That’s not what happened though.
STUDIO EXECUTIVE STANDPOINT:
Overall, Justice League may not be performing the way it needed to in it’s opening weekend but it’s looking to do better and the way it was supposed to this weekend. Yes, Warner Brothers executives are probably quietly disappointed that Justice League did not turn out to be a critically well-received picture like with Wonder Woman. Realistically, they are not even worried if the film is looking to have some very shaky or decent legs to it’s box office that will not get them to $1 billion. However, at the same time they’re still somewhat positive that it’s going to at the very least break even and turn a decent profit that will be bolstered by home releases to recuperate whatever small losses are potentially incurred in a similar fashion to Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad with their extended cuts. Hopefully, these same executives will have learned their lesson based on the backlash from fans that meddling with the run times will not benefit them just as it did not with Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. The former of which should have obviously performed better for a film with the first live-action presentation of the DC trinity. At best they’ll maybe start to regroup and move some release dates around, cancel a few films that don’t belong, and make course corrections that are more in line with what we had already begun to see at the end of Justice League but the same course that the DC Extended Universe has been running will largely stay the same on certain levels. Hopefully, they will have learned their lesson to allow directors to work freely without mandates after the third time which has given them some sizable fan backlash and critical backlash that nobody is ignoring. It’s been well-established that Zack Snyder’s cut is certainly the one that they should have put in the theaters to give it a slightly better chance at reaching the $1 billion they wanted and maybe get some decent reception from the critics. They cut it close here compared to the situations with Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman respectively where there was never a doubt that the films would do well in the face of negativity compared to Justice League where some doubt could be cast.
In summary, it’s business as usual. The DC Extended Universe itself is by no means in danger on a financial, creative, or audience level.