What It Was Projected to Make: $110m domestic, $325m worldwide
What It Actually Made: $96m domestic, $281m worldwide
How Bad Is That?: That $110m projection was already seen as a disappointment. Then Justice League came in 12% below that. Ouch. It’s also 13% off its projected pace worldwide despite a recording opening in Brazil and huge debut in China.
Thor: Ragnarok Kicked Its Ass, Didn’t It?: Kinda. Two weeks ago, Thor: Ragnarok, the third installment in what had been Marvel Studios’s most unreliable sub-franchise, opened to $122m domestic, nearly $40m above the franchise’s prior high. Before the weekend, WB insiders bluntly told THR losing to Ragnarok would be a really sobering moment. Justice League is DC’s A-Team, Ragnarok Marvel’s B-Team. The B-Team’s not supposed to kick the A-Team’s ass, yet Justice League opened 22% below Ragnarok.
But, wait, it gets worse. Justice League also cost between $70m and $120m more to make than Ragnarok. So, this isn’t solely a dick-measuring contest between two rival companies; this is first and foremost about profitability. Deadline’s sources say JL will need to hit $700m-$750m worldwide to break even. Ragnarok is already up to $738m after a mere three weeks of worldwide release. JL, which is overperforming in select international territories but underperforming domestically, might just barely reach that same total across its entire run unless it holds strong over Thanksgiving.
When’s the Last Time Two Comic Book Movies Came Out So Close Together?: Five years ago. The Amazing Spider-Man was a Fourth of July release and Dark Knight Rises arrived two weeks later. In that case, three-quarters of ASM’s domestic total came pre-Dark Knight Rises. Comic book and all other kinds of fanboy/girl-dependent films are notoriously frontloaded, but to make 75% of your money in your first two weeks is a bit extreme. It’s what happens when the word of mouth isn’t great or when you suddenly receive direct competition or, in ASM’s case, when both of those happen to you. ASM’s financials suffered as a result, yet Dark Knight Rises performed as if ASM wasn’t even there. If anything, its financials seemed more impacted by post-Aurora theater shooting anxiety.
That’s the opposite of what’s happening now since Justice League definitely seems to be suffering from coming to market so hot on Ragnarok’s heels whereas Ragnarok is continuing to flourish. It made another $21m this weekend, upping its domestic cume to $247m.
What About Wonder Woman? Or BvS?: This is the worst opening in DCEU history. Justice League’s $96m is 7% behind Wonder Woman ($103m), 17% behind Man of Steel ($116m), 27% behind Suicide Squad ($133m) and an especially damning 42% behind last year’s Batman v Superman ($166m).
BvS still has its defenders, but the damage it did to the brand can surely be seen in the progressively lower opening weekends for the now-three DCEU movies to come in its wake. Marvel Studios openings tend to fluctuate from film to film or at least continue going up from sequel to sequel (Age of Ultron being one obvious exception). Not the DCEU, though. Since BvS it’s just been a straight line down;
When the well has been so thoroughly poisoned by bad product something amazing has to come along to rebuild trust with the audience. They won’t all be there on opening weekend, either. They need to be told by their friends who do go opening weekend that this new film in the franchise is actually good.
Wonder Woman managed to do that, eventually tripling its opening weekend audience and becoming the highest-grossing origin story comic book movie of all time. That’s why WB suddenly shifted strategy with its JL trailers and positioned the film more as a Wonder Woman sequel than BvS sequel.
The Wonder Woman bump didn’t really materialize in a truly significant way, though. Justice League earned a better male/female ratio (59%/41%) than Batman v Superman (62%/38%), but it’s still a far cry from WW’s majority female (53%) opening audience.
So, WB’s “we’re sorry you hated BvS, but maybe after Wonder Woman you’ll give Justice League a shot just to see Gal Gadot again” strategy didn’t fool nearly enough audiences. Moreover, it might have even alienated the BvS defenders who would have been more happy with a faithful sequel and not a franken-movie that slaps jokes everywhere to overcompensate. On top of all that, delaying the RottenTomatoes score until its reveal in a Facebook Live show most people hadn’t heard of yet spooked both WW and BvS fans because it reeked of studio spin control even though RT swears WB, one of its minority corporate owners, had nothing to do with the decision.
This ain’t over:
WB’s head of domestic distribution told Deadline, “It’s not just about the opening weekend, but it’s about the length of the run, especially given the extremely lucrative Thanksgiving holiday. We have lots of room to run,” and he’s right. Justice League is heading into one of the biggest weeks of the year for new movies, and with the rest of the studios oddly calling it a day and opting against competing with Coco there might be a lot of “well, there’s nothing else out that’s new so I guess I’ll finally get around to seeing Justice League,” particularly with so many kids being out of school.
To be fair, even though you wouldn’t guess it from reading the reviews Justice League‘s word of mouth might not be so bad. According to Deadline, “On a bit of an upside, audiences seem to be enjoying Justice League more than critics’ 39% Rotten Tomatoes score: CinemaScore crowds gave Justice League a B+, the same as Suicide Squad and an improvement on BvS‘s ‘B’. CinemaScore’s audience sentiment jives with what PostTrak saw on Thursday night, with a four-out-of-five stars score, 85% overall positive and high 69% definite recommend.”
There’s also still a chance WW fans might be a little late coming to JL since they’ll be seeing it more out of obligation than passion. However, WW grew the way it did post-opening because mothers and daughters who would never otherwise see a comic book movie went to WW in response to the way it captured the zeitgeist. Justice League doesn’t have that kind of staying power. It’s actually as disposable as they come and will likely prove more upsetting to WW fans than satisfying due to its over-sexualization of the Amazons and Diana.
The number(s) to remember: $700m and $750m. If Justice League’s worldwide total falls anywhere between those two figures it will at least break even. WB obviously had their sights set a little higher, especially considering DCEU’s track record:
Sources: Deadline, BoxOfficeMojo