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There's really no other way to say it: Justice League had a tough weekend. The superhero blockbuster, which is meant to stand as the culmination of Warner Bros' DC cinematic universe, underperformed at the box office during opening weekend. The movie only earned an estimated $94 million, unable to break through the $100 million barrier as it was originally projected to. This makes it the lowest opening of all the DCEU movies. Considering this is an A-tier assembling of DC comics best heroes, Justice League could turn out to be a huge disappointment for Warner Bros. and the future of the DCEU is now in question. Or is it? Abandoning this universe seems pretty drastic at this point, but let's talk through this.
Because the language of all big studios is money, we'll analyze the box office first. Ordinarily, $94 million in three days is pretty damn good for any normal theatrical release. Last weekend's Wonder, which was made on a budget of $20 million, would surely consider that a massive victory. However, Justice League is a tentpole blockbuster that is also one of the most expensive movies ever made; It had a budget of reportedly $300 million thanks to some very expensive reshoots that involved the most infamous upper lip in cinema. That isn't including the hefty marketing costs, which were likely at least $100 million. Justice League supposedly has to make $600 million to just break even, so $94 million in the bank isn't as great a start as Warner probably wants. The Avengers, the only relevant example, earned $207 million its first weekend domestically on a $220 million budget.
However, Justice League is also opening overseas and currently sits at a worldwide total of $281 million. That number is likely to grow as the weeks move on, especially with the holiday weekend coming up, but Justice League has some serious obstacles on that front. The next couple of weeks are going to be very crowded for movie releases. Everything from Coco to Star Wars: The Last Jedi is coming over the next few weeks, which means there's even less room for Justice League to stretch its legs and get back some big money.
Justice League is not a commercial smash yet, but it also didn't do well with critics. The blockbuster has a 40% on Rotten Tomatoes and a B+ CinemaScore (which is fairly average). Word-of-mouth can affect performance at the box office, as we saw with Wonder Woman, which opened with $103 million and continued to grow and grow to a domestic total of over $412 million. It's possible that mostly negative reviews could sway those who were cautious about the DCEU after certain earlier releases, and were waiting to get a critical consensus to see if Justice League was worth their time and money. Justice League may show its seams, but it's no trainwreck, so we'll see if more people turn out in the coming weeks.
So, we've got mixed-negative reviews with a chance of Warner Bros. actually losing money on the blockbuster. It's also the worst opening for any DCEU film, earning $70 million less than Batman V Superman's first weekend. That doesn't spell good news for the DCEU, which is likely seeing a massive overhaul of its strategy if Warner and DC Films has not done so already. It's been reported that the studio is waiting to see the performance of Justice League before moving forward with their cinematic universe, so does this mean they will cancel the DCEU altogether? I'm inclined to say no, but it's clear that changes need to be made if it really wants to compete with what the MCU has done.
First off, the DCEU may only have one critical and commercial smash hit (Wonder Woman), but Warner Bros. isn't going to throw away all the investment it has put into the cinematic universe. The DCEU has big star power behind well-received fan-favorite characters like Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn and Gal Gadot's already iconic Wonder Woman. Seriously, they would have to be insane to scrap Wonder Woman right after she had one of the biggest movies of 2017. Maybe they could just make her sequels stand alone, but then that'll just make things more confusing when there's no Justice League 2.
Justice League was unfortunately caught in the middle when the backlash for Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, and its bleak tone, began. Development of the movie was well underway by the time BvS released, and the production team had to scramble when they realized the template for the whole cinematic universe was getting slammed left and right. It was always going to be extremely difficult for Justice League to change course like that, and the hard left turn resulted in a movie that was clearly directed by two different people. It may have been too late for Justice League, but it's not too late for DCEU films that weren't as deep into the process. Aquaman is coming next year and while it may not reach the success-levels of Wonder Woman, there's no reason to worry yet. If Patty Jenkins was able to deliver under these conditions, we can assume that James Wan can, as well.
We don't know at what point did Warner Bros. began re-jiggering their DC plans, but the changes are already showing. Shazam! is the next movie on the docket after Aquaman, and can probably be considered the first true example of the rebranded DCEU. It's about a little boy who can transform into an adult with superpowers, who battles a mad scientist and sometimes has a talking tiger in a suit as a sidekick. This can be as far from Batman V Superman as you can get!
Don't forget there's also a Flashpoint movie in the works, too. The implication of this is that it'll be based on the DC Comics event of the same name, during which the entire DC continuity is rebooted, so it'll pretty much pull the rug out from under the DCEU for a fresh start. It'd be a way to establish a new tone, phase out Ben Affleck, and make whatever other changes are felt necessary, all while keeping the continuity the studio likely does want intact. It's telling that a story of this caliber is the FIRST Flash movie, so it's definitely on the table as an option.
Warner Bros. might be considering making DC films that aren't connected by any continuity whatsoever. There's merit to this idea and I would watch those movies (Give me a Kingdom Come movie any day), but I don't want to see the DCEU cancelled. There's still so much potential in this universe and so much more money to be made once they nail a formula. I have faith that we will see a Justice League 2 some day. I don't mind waiting for it either if it means Warner Bros is finally taking a moment to get itself together and think this shared universe thing through. Just don't tease an awesome post-credits scene for a Justice League sequel and leave us all hanging, please!