‘Justice League’ Had the Worst Opening of the DC Extended Universe

The superhero team-up is a huge disappointment at the domestic box office.

The superhero team-up is a huge disappointment at the domestic box office.

The attempt to reroute the DC Extended Universe with Justice League may have failed. The movie, which teams up Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg, basically bombed at the box office over the weekend. While a $94M debut would be amazing for a lot of movies, for a superhero crossover with a reported budget of around $300M, that’s not good at all (it’s even lower than Sunday’s estimate of $96m!).

Justice League underperformed by a number of measurements, including the fact that its opening is the worst of the five DC Extended Universe releases. Early predictions from BoxOffice Pro had the debut at second-best with $150M, and even last week the expectation was for at least $125M (with Variety and Deadline going as low as $110M). Movies like Justice League should not be opening to less than $100M, that’s for sure.

But the general audience had reason not to be excited for the latest installment of the DCEU. Box office was high for last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, because everyone wanted to see Batman fight Superman on the big screen. But the movie was a disappointment for many. The same goes for Suicide Squad, which looked a lot better in its marketing than it is. This year, Wonder Woman turned things around critically, showing audiences that the DCEU could be fun now, but even with that title character returning for Justice League, it wasn’t enough.

DCEU Openings in Order of Release (All Adjusted for Inflation)
Man of Steel
 (2013)  – $124.3M
Batman v Superman (2016) – $172.8M
Suicide Squad (2016) – $140.3M
Wonder Woman (2017) – $103M
Justice League (2017) – $94M

Reports of reshoots, a second director coming aboard (Joss Whedon took over for Zack Snyder, who had to leave for personal family reasons), and a short running time locked in because of budget issues — none of this negative publicity helped sell Justice League as the franchise fix it hoped to be. DC fans really love Snyder’s work on this series, but the mainstream crowd is tiring of the dark aesthetic, and some jokes and a lighter tone infused late into the development process — plus a higher (but still very rotten) score on Rotten Tomatoes — is all too late to save the day.

Maybe. Justice League opened just $9M shy of Wonder Woman‘s debut earlier this year, and that movie went on to gross more domestically than any of the other DCEU movies, even Batman v Superman (which still just barely topped it worldwide). Its CinemaScore grade, from polling opening night audiences, is a ‘B+’, which isn’t as good as Wonder Woman‘s ‘A’ but is better than Batman v Superman‘s ‘B’, so word of mouth on the positive improvements to the franchise on Justice League could carry the movie to a decent total.

Global box office will also keep Warner Bros. from being too concerned. Justice League has already taken in an extra $185.5M from international markets. That’s more on par with Marvel’s first superhero team movie, The Avengers, which posted a $185.1M debut internationally five years ago, albeit with far fewer markets. Justice League did better than Wonder Woman in most markets, save for South Korea, and overall. And it had a better opening than Batman v Superman in Brazil.

DCEU International Openings in Order of Release
Man of Steel
 (2013)  – $71.6M (in 24 markets, averaging $2.98M)
Batman v Superman (2016) – $254M (in 66 markets, averaging $3.85M)
Suicide Squad (2016) – $133.3M (in 57 markets, averaging $2.34M)
Wonder Woman (2017) – $122.5M (in 55 markets, averaging $2.23M)
Justice League (2017) – $185.5M (in 65 markets, averaging $2.85M)

For now, it has to hurt that Justice League had the worst opening for a live-action DC superhero movie since 2011’s Green Lantern ($58.9M, adjusted), and its drop for its series is unfortunate compared the end of a certain past DC film series. Justice League ‘s debut is 46% down from the DCEU peak and 9% down from the previous installment. Batman and Robin ($83.4M, adjusted) was only 23% down from the ’90s Batman franchise run’s peak, which was also its previous installment (Batman Forever, $108.4M adjusted), and that killed the franchise.

You have to go down before you can come back, and let’s remember that Batman and Robin was so disliked that when Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins arrived eight years later, it only opened to $67.9M (adjusted). Given the love audiences are giving to Jason Momoa’s character, next year’s Aquaman could be another triumph for Warner Bros. and DC. And with the franchise not committing to too much interconnectivity with an overarching narrative, audiences will quickly give these movies more and more chances.

Not that Marvel isn’t doing well with its cinematic universe strategy, seeing as how all three of that studio’s superhero movies this year debuted stronger than both of DC’s. Thor: Ragnarok may have been beaten at the box office by Justice League this past weekend, but it’s coming out way on top for end-of-year comparisons. For the current end-of-franchise champion, however, DC remains on top. With adjustments for inflation, the DCEU average opening figure is $127.3M compared to the MCU’s $124.1M.

And for domestic totals, even with DC having a low entry with the just-opened Justice League, the franchise average is already $300.1M, which isn’t that far off from Marvel’s $329.5M. We could very well see DC coming out on top there, as well as with the global average, which is currently $678M versus $788M. DC as a brand will also likely take the throne when this year’s movies are done, considering right now its average from almost 40 years is currently $225M compared to Marvel’s average from over 30 years is $247M.

Here is this weekend’s estimated top 10 (new titles in bold):

1. Justice League – $94M (actual)
2. Wonder – $27.1M
3. Thor: Ragnarok – $21.8M
4. Daddy’s Home 2 – $14.8M
5. Murder on the Orient Express – $13.8M
6. The Star – $10M
7. A Bad Moms Christmas – $6.9M
8. Lady Bird – $2.5M
9. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – $1.12M
10. Jigsaw – $1.07M

All  figures via Box Office Mojo.

Christopher Campbell: Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.