Sunday, August 28, 2016

Comparing Film Series Box Office Performance

EDIT 9/15/2016: Updated with increased projection for Suicide Squad (from $675M to $715M).

With Suicide Squad overcoming critical negativity to post a huge record August opening and then showing strong legs with only 52% and 42% drops the last two weekends, it now looks clear that the DC Films Justice League Universe (often referred to as the DCEU) is three for three in terms of financial success. Suicide Squad should safely clear $675 Million worldwide. Movie finances are notoriously hard to pin down, but here are two quick pieces of evidence that Suicide Squad, like Man of Steel and Batman v Superman before it, are financially profitable:
  • Even if we assume SS went over budget by $10 Million or so (maybe because of the reshoots), it is still going to post a worldwide gross more than 3.6 times its production cost (for comparison, the hugely successful Guardians of the Galaxy had a worldwide gross 3.3 times its production cost);
  • Warner Brothers is expanding its DC Films slate by adding a Man of Steel sequel and Justice League Dark. This is on top of its already ambitious slate including Wonder Woman, Justice League, The Flash, Aquaman, and The Batman.

The films in the Justice League Universe have also had incredibly strong home media sales thus far, and Suicide Squad also managed to support the number one album in the country with its soundtrack. But focusing just on the worldwide box office totals, we can also put this new film series into context by comparing it to many other film series of the 21st Century. Below is a graph that shows the DCEU in pink but also shows 8 other film series -- The Dark Knight trilogy, The Hunger Games, James Bond, Transformers, Fast & Furious, Harry Potter, the X-Men universe, and of course the Marvel Cinematic Universe (13 films and counting). This graph uses a $715 Million estimate for Suicide Squad, which is probably low.

Some things that stick out to me from this graph:

  • The DCEU is still very early in its development compared to the longstanding film series.
  • The DCEU's first three films are above the initial films in several of the other longstanding film series. In particular, DCEU's films are at least $44 Million above the first five MCU films, they're way above the first 6 X-Men films, and they are above the first five Fast & Furious films. (Some people may want to adjust those earlier movies' totals for inflation, but even doing so, the DCEU comes out pretty strong in comparison thus far.)
  • The DCEU's first two films tracked very closely with the first two films in the Transformers series and the first two in the Hunger Games series. For the third film, Transformers shot up into the billion dollar club while Hunger Games 3 ticked down a bit. Suicide Squad ticked down even a bit more than Hunger Games 3, but whereas the Hunger Games was supposed to be building momentum into the series finally (and so the down tick was disappointing for them), Suicide Squad by contrast was a side-step addition to the universe and somewhat more of a gamble because of the Squad being a relatively unknown intellectual property. So the down tick was expected for Suicide Squad, and 2017 is designed to have a higher box office upside for the DCEU with Wonder Woman and then all the big guns in Justice League.
  • The 4 movies that surpassed $1.2 Billion were all deep in a film series run -- 6th for The Avengers, 7th for Furious 7, 8th for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, and 11th for Avengers: Age of Ultron. I hope and expect that the DCEU will have a couple movies at that level by the time they hit their 8th or 10th film in the series. For example, I think Justice League, The Batman, and Justice League 2 all have legitimate chances to perform that high, and there may be another solo film that resonates with critics and audiences alike to overperform.
Of course, fans and film buffs usually spend most of their time comparing the DCEU with the MCU. Looking ahead at these two series, it will be very interesting to see how Doctor Strange performs at the end of this year. Will it be the 5th MCU film to clear the $800 Million mark? Probably not, given all the holiday season competition and the fact that there have already been quite a few hit superhero movies this year. I think it's more likely that it will finish around the MCU median of $600-650 Million. Still a solid money-maker.

As for the DCEU, I expect Wonder Woman to outperform MCU's fourth offering ($449 Million for Thor) and I expect Justice League to outperform all prior DCEU films as well as the first 5 MCU films. So DCEU's curve going forward should be pointed toward the highwater mark that is The Avengers. Many people were expecting Batman v Superman to make the jump up into the billion dollar club, but looking at this graph shows that that was a pretty unrealistic expectation. Only The Dark Knight made such a jump, and that is widely considered the best comic-book movie of all time and it had general appeal as well, buoyed by Heath Ledger's Oscar-winning performance. Of course The Avengers also made a big leap above its predecessors, but I think the DCEU counterpart to The Avengers will be Justice League, not Batman v Superman.

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