Something strange happened with Suicide Squad‘s box office once I stopped looking: it stopped free-falling.
Suicide Squad Box Office As Of 9/8/16
To recap, during its first 3 weeks in theaters Suicide Squad was Batman v Superman all over again: endless hype leading to a record opening weekend followed by nearly record drops in the subsequent weekends as the toxic word of mouth spread. In comparison to the rest of the DCEU (BvS and Man of Steel) as well as Guardians of the Galaxy, which came out at nearly the same exact time two years ago, Squad appeared to have no more real staying power than BvS, one of the most front-loaded blockbusters in box office history. It was certainly no Guardians, and suggested WB had gone 0 for 2 on the year with hits suddenly fledging DCEU. The studio could brag about box office totals and opening weekend records all they wanted, but we knew better. These movies are shit, and the world had reacted accordingly, at least once curiosity had been satisfied.
But the narrative is not so set in stone anymore. Shockingly, in the past two weeks Suicide Squad has reversed its freefall to such a degree that it now has an opening-weekend-to-final multiplier (2.25x) right on par with Captain America: Civil War (2.27x), and it still has at least another month or two to go in theaters. The best-reviewed comic book movie of the year (Civil War) and one of the worst-reviewed comic book movies of the year (Squad) are now nearly indistinguishable from one another on a chart like this:
Opening-to-Final Multipliers Among Notoriously Front-Loaded Comic Book Movies
For those who don’t know, a multiplier, as defined by The-Numbers.com, is “a film’s total box office divided by its opening weekend box office. Another measure of the film’s word-of-mouth but with a much wider range of possibilities. Films with below 2.0 are not unheard of, while 6.0 or more are a possibility.”
A high or low multiplier doesn’t always directly correlate to box office failure or success, but it does usually speak to a film’s long-lasting critical reputation. Obviously, the higher the multiplier the better since it means the more you were able to make after your marketing-manufactured opening weekend. Among relatively recent comic book movies, Batman Begins (4.24x), Guardians of the Galaxy (3.53x), The Dark Knight (3.37x) and Iron Man (3.22x) represent the multiplier ceiling and Elektra (1.90x), Jonah Hex (1.94x), Watchmen (1.94x) and Batman v Superman (1.98x) the floor.
If you get anywhere near that ceiling it generally means you completely captured the hardcore fans of the material and crossed over into the general public for the long haul. If you end up somewhere in the middle you at least got the hardcore fans in the doors on opening weekend, and they then convinced some of their friends to give the film a chance. The floor generally means the hardcore fans came opening weekend, and chose not to recommend it to anyone.
Obviously, Squad is closer to the floor than the ceiling, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Spider-Man 3 and X-Men: The Last Stand. The fact that this is considered a victory in comparison to Batman v Superman‘s near-record low multiplier says less about Squad‘s achievement and more about BvS’s failure. Yet Civil War is on the same list with Squad. In fact, Civil War went down as the most front-loaded film in MCU history (Iron Man 3‘s 2.34x had been the prior low).
What the heck’s going on here? Is this somehow an inevitable result of Hollywood’s increasing obsession with eventivising opening weekends? Is it much ado about nothing since Civil War still grossed $408m dom./$1.15b worldwide? Have the MCU films grown in popularity so much that there’s no need to cross over into the general public anymore since we’re all pretty much hardcore fans delivering one MCU film after into the $1b worldwide club?
With a rabid fanbase that is merely happy to see their favorite characters on screen come hell or high water fueling a massive opening weekend, franchises don’t really have to expand the fanbase beyond those already wanting to see that first film in theaters on opening weekend. If the relatively acclaimed Captain America: Civil War didn’t have any better legs than the allegedly disappointing Suicide Squad (to say nothing of X-Men: Apocalypse), then do we argue that both merely played to their base and didn’t branch out?
Maybe Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy (and the likes of Iron Man) was the exception when it comes to comic book franchises. Will a theoretically superior Wonder Woman play leggier (give or take the size of its opening weekend) than the likes of Man of Steel or Suicide Squad? Will a potentially solid Justice League benefit from the November release and Thanksgiving weekend post-debut bump? Or is the DC Films going to whatever the DC Films offering is going to do for the foreseeable future?
Are we going to see a bunch of DC movies that basically do the same relative performance give-or-take a variable here and there? None of this will be a problem as long as the films are budgeted accordingly. I used to look at franchises like Twilight and X-Men as outliers in terms of small legs. But maybe they were sneak peaks at the future, one where the big franchises all play to the base almost from the beginning and keep the fanbase around for as long as they can.
Suicide Squad Weekly Drop-Offs Versus the DCEU