As much as we’ve tried, adjusting to the new normal has been harder for certain industries, the movies being one of them. It may seem like ages ago, but just two years earlier we could look at a box office weekend and say assertively whether or not the film was a hit or a flop. Expectations for success have long rested solely on domestic and global box office numbers, with blue ray and VOD sales coming long after that initial run. Even as the theater movie going experience began to shift and dwindle, the box office remained the primary base line for all films. Fast forward just two years, and things have changed so drastically that Box Office numbers are becoming less and less important in determining the overall success of a film’s run. Look, we can save AMC theaters from bankruptcy on reddit and allow them to salvage what’s left of their capital to stay in business, but retail investors have no bearing on the one thing that actually matters: people showing up to the theater to watch movies.
It is simply no longer the primary way we consume media, and with new models and streaming overtaking just about every facet of media consumption, going to the movies and opening weekend numbers simply don’t paint the whole picture of what a film is doing. Yes, there is still money to be made at the box office and it has a huge impact on overall profitability, but just as we are navigating our lives in a pandemic, so are major studios that are completely reliant on us for success. I’ve seen 8 movies in theaters, 5 of which on opening night and every single one of them had the attendance of an indie film in limited release. The same amount of people sat with me during my “Jungle Cruise” viewing as did my “Pig” viewing. From the ticket line to the concessions to the seats available, not even “Black Widow” felt like an opening night at the theater for a major summer blockbuster.
The hard truth is, people are simply not going to the movies. The days of premieres and mega releases are simply relics at this point, which brings me to “The Suicide Squad.” There is far more going on here than just “it underperformed therefore it flopped.” That’s a 2019 mindset and it simply cannot be applied here. That doesn’t mean it didn’t perform as well as expectations, falling about $4 million short of its projected $30 million. I get it, it’s easy to look at that see how it could tell a story of a flopped film, especially when compared to “Suicide Squad’s” much larger opening despite being the lesser of the two films over all. But like we’ve been saying all along, 2016 is not 2021, and comparing the two is akin to comparing apples to oranges. They’re both fruits, but they are different in just about every way outside of that. I can assure you, box office analysts and news outlets and even studios would very much like to point to one single reason as to why “The Suicide Squad” performed the way it did, but it is unfortunately not that simple. The landscape of success and failure is no longer black and white, with any number of grays that act as mitigating factors that tell a much more complicated narrative, one that actually doesn’t really have a resolution yet.
Enter film critic, Screen Junkies alum and SchmoeDown champion Dan Murrell, who’s YouTube channel is one of my favorites for a number of reasons. One, Murrell is a reviewer who as a fellow critic, respect greatly and does a wonderful job reviewing films. Second, he is one of the few people who has taken it upon himself to consistently analyze the box office numbers every week. It is extensive, well researched, and almost always educational. Murrell willingly takes a step back and really digs deep into the overall narrative that the numbers are telling on both a domestic and global scale, and he is careful in his approach to take as many factors as possible into account. Murrell looks beyond the numbers and gives some new perspectives between them, leaving room for discussion and a better, fuller understanding of the film world as it exists today.
Rather than retread his wonderful analysis by pretending “I did my own research,” I have linked his video below so you can see for yourself how deep the rabbit hole goes. Something you may not know that Dan’s show has continuously pointed out (and does here) is that none of the major summer releases have been released in China. Typically July is reserved for chinese domestic films as it celebrates its communist party success. This year, as it celebrates its 100th anniversary, that domestic film release only has extended into August. This is important to remember on a global box office scale because the China market has always been a key to success for most films globally, and accounts for a majority of a films box office earnings. It’s not THE reason “The Suicide Squad” underperformed, but it something that needs to considered for all films being released right now and many outlets seem to exclude from their write ups.
One of the other more interesting things he does when it comes to “The Suicide Squad” in addition to listing the many factors that contributed to its box office performance is provides a detailed look at all of the WB releases this year and how they’ve faired at the box office and streaming against their money line. Murrell marks the money line at the point where a film is considered profitable, which is around double their initial budget (which accounts for marketing and excludes streaming profits which are seldom released released). What we see very quickly is that when compared to everything else released from WB in 2021, “The Suicide Squad” isn’t that much different that all of their other films. For example, a lot of people have been comparing “The Suicide Squad‘s” performance to that of “Mortal Kombat,” continuously pointing out that the newly released film opened 26% below one of the bigger releases. When put into the context of the money line presented by Dan Murrell however, we are able to see that it too struggled to make its money back when put against its own budget. In fact, on this spectrum it actually looks to be on par with “The Suicide Squad,” falling far short of its “box office success” when put into the proper perspective.
If we take that graph one step further, we actually see that the only major film on the WB/HBO Max simultaneous release model that really found success and hit its money line was “Godzilla vs Kong.” The rest, including the “Wonder Woman: 1984” “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” and even the self proclaimed savior of cinema, “Tenet.” Murrell goes far more in depth with this information but one thing is clear: while “The Suicide Squad” may have underperformed according to conservative box office numbers, it hasn’t struggled any more than any other film from WB this year, and the reasons for this simply can’t be boiled down to one single answer. The box office numbers no longer encompass the whole picture, nor does it determine whether or not a film is a flop.
So while there is certainly reason for discussion, sounding the alarm that “The Suicide Squad” is an unmitigated disaster and splashing the headlines with how poorly it performed is the wrong thing to focus on and doesn’t really paint an accurate picture of what is actually happening. I get why these kinds of reports need to happen, but as Dan Murrell is quick to point out, it is a very limited perspective and excludes numerous factors that go beyond the film itself and cover the industry as a whole. The reality is that the times, they are a changin’ and studios large and small are still trying to figure it all out. No one has a compass, so they’re all just navigating in the dark and trying to figure out the best way to make money in the face of a raging pandemic and their previous money maker of a dying industry continues to dwindle.
There is simply no one, single answer to why and how “The Suicide Squad” performed the way it did. Luckily we have dedicated cinephiles like Dan Murrell to go above and beyond to try and get to the bottom of it all.
He may not get there, but he gets closer than most, and I encourage to look past the “The Suicide Squad is a Failure!” headlines and dig a little bit deeper.
You can check out Dan Murrell’s Inside The Suicide Squad’s Disappointing Opening- Charts with Dan! below.