Friday, December 28, 2018

AQUAMAN's Box Office Trajectory in Comparison to the DCEU Films

On the Justice League Universe podcast, we tend to focus on the substance of films in the DCEU, but I can't help but check into the business side of things from time to time because, after all, I want to make sure that the cinematic universe I love will continue. (I also happen to work with mathematics as my career, so I enjoy crunching the numbers.)

With the DCEU on its way to $4.5 Billion over the first six movies, produced with a total budget of $1.18 Billion (so a ROI of 282% before counting home media, licensing, merchandise, etc.), it is an undeniable financial success, which is why we have Shazam!, Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, and Wonder Woman 1984 already in the pipeline, with many other DCEU films in development.

Aquaman has been unique in its international-release-first strategy and its timing around the holiday season. Internationally, Aquaman is a massive success, already reeling in $470 Million and on its way to probably being the highest grossing DCEU film outside the U.S. (BvS had $543 Million abroad.) But I was also curious to see how Aquaman's holiday season performance in the U.S. compared with the past DCEU films.

Here is a graph of the cumulative box office performance (U.S.) during the first month of release for each of the six DCEU films.

Let's look first at Aquaman (in light aqua-blue). It started with the lowest opening weekend, but it has the benefit of the Christmas holiday (Tuesday) and the forthcoming holiday weekend to make up ground. Indeed, with the days around Christmas, Aquaman has already moved up to surpass Justice League. And projections are such that Aquaman is expected to have the best second-weekend hold of any DCEU movie, so I expect it to stay above Justice League and possibly make a gradual move upward toward the Man of Steel and Suicide Squad curves, though probably not fully reaching them. If it can continue to dominate through January (it's primary competition, I think, will be Glass by M. Night Shyamalan), then Aquaman will post a sizeable U.S. box office total above $230 Million that, when combined with the huge international numbers, will make it the highest grossing DCEU film to date.

Some other interesting things to notice about the graph above:
  • MoS and Suicide Squad tracked very close to one another for the first month, but the Skwad had a little bit better staying power and ended up at $349 Million to MoS's $322 Million.
  • Wonder Woman had profoundly better legs than the other DCEU films, as can be seen by the fact that it slices up and across the other curves. Aquaman, to its credit, is also showing decent legs rather than a steep opening weekend followed by more modest accumulation. I think Aquaman's staying power will be commendable, but I don't think it will match the 2017 summer phenomenon that was Wonder Woman. (Aquaman's international numbers are much better than WW's, though.)
  • Justice League may have been a box office disappointment when compared to BvS or other team-up films, but it still actually made a lot of money.

Themes and Character Arcs in AQUAMAN

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on the themes and character development of Aquaman, directed by James Wan and written by David Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall.

  • Themes in Aquaman
  • Character development
  • Connections to other DCEU Films
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Contributors: @ottensam @raveryn @derbykid @wondersyd
Bonus Content and forthcoming Man of Steel analysis:

<Transcript below>

Connections between AQUAMAN and the Prior DCEU Films

The following is an excerpt from an episode of the Justice League Universe podcast. You can stream the full episode or download the MP3.

What we want to do now is just quickly run through some initial connections that we saw between Aquaman (directed by James Wan) and the prior films in the Justice League Universe, also known as the DCEU. Overall, this movie -- although it has a tone of its own -- fits really well into the developing cinematic universe, with one main exception.

The exception stems from Justice League, which is the other main appearance of Arthur Curry. In Justice League, Arthur has a brief scene with Mera after Steppenwolf retrieved the motherbox from Atlantis. It seems very clear that Arthur is ignorant of the ultimate fate of his mother and he harbors a lot of anger at her for abandoning him. In the Aquaman film, however, this is shifted so that his anger is now toward Atlantis, not his mother. In fact, he is now quite sympathetic toward his mother and he understands why she left and that she was supposedly executed. So there’s a bit of discontinuity there, but being angry at Atlantis and missing his mother makes a lot of sense for the story they wanted to tell in Aquaman. And it’s not completely impossible to reconcile the two films, as it could be that Arthur has both anger toward Atlantis for what they did to his mother and also some residual anger that flares up at times toward his mother, because she did after all leave them to return to the sea. When he said in Justice League that his mother probably didn’t give him another thought, this might not be his true feelings but rather just something that boiled up for him briefly in the moment. After all, people can have complex and sometimes seemingly contradictory emotions, especially if they’ve been through something as traumatic as losing a mother.

Other than that shift from Justice League to Aquaman, there are a lot of connections to be drawn between this film and the prior ones. There actually were a few pieces of good continuity with Justice League. Mera said back then that Atlanna left Arthur there to save his life, and that it was painful for her to do so, and both of those are fully explained and are true here in Aquaman. Mera also mentioned in Justice League that her parents fought in the wars and that Atlanna took her in. This is not contradicted by anything in Aquaman, although it isn’t a big factor in this film. At first I thought maybe her parents had gone off and died in the wars, leaving Mera with Atlanna permanently. But that was a faulty assumption on my part. It was most likely a temporary situation where Mera’s parents, the king and queen of the Xebel Kingdom, had to go off to a war, perhaps with the Brine Kingdom, the Trench, or some factions within their own kingdom. And Atlanna, being another member of royalty from the allied Kingdom of Atlantis, would make sense as a temporary caretaker for Mera.

And one final note about Justice League -- I don’t think Arthur ever says her name in that film, so it makes sense here in Aquaman that he says he never asked her name.

Looking back to prior films in the universe, Aquaman continues the tradition of showing Justice League characters as children. In past films, we’ve seen young Clark Kent, young Bruce Wayne, and young Diana. Furthermore, MoS and Aquaman both show infancy as well as adolescence, and they both show bullying. Wonder Woman and Aquaman both show youth and then teenage training with a mentor. NexusPong on Twitter compiled some nice photos of the characters as kids:

Man of Steel and Aquaman have further connections -- they both use flashbacks as a narrative device, tying in moments from childhood to moments that are currently occurring with the character. And both of these origin stories involve the main character being a bridge between two worlds. There’s also a great shot in each film of the hero, wearing their full costume, zooming upward.

Speaking of which, Wonder Woman and Aquaman both end on a somewhat hyper-real hero shot of the main character. Those two films also have the commonality of mankind ruining the planet and being contrasted negatively with a different civilization -- although in the case of Aquaman, the other civilization also has some of its own problems, whereas Themyscira was fairly idealized.

Also, both Wonder Woman and Aquaman had some important relationship development that happened on a boat.

With regard to Batman v Superman, that film had a strong connection to Excalibur, as we’ve covered extensively in past episodes. And Aquaman here has strong overtones of the Once and Future King (or The Sword in the Stone, if we want to go with movie versions, like Arthur does). For example, at the beginning, Arthur is explicitly named after the legend of King Arthur, just like we explicitly saw an Excalibur marquee at the start of BvS. And Arthur learning to swim from Vulko is kind of like young Arthur learning lessons through swimming as taught by Merlin. And of course a big parallel is Arthur Curry being able to remove the trident, marking himself as the true king, just like Arthur Pendragon pulling the sword from the stone.

Alright, let’s quickly run through a few more connections:

    • BvS, Wonder Woman, and now Aquaman all have opening and closing narrations. Justice League also had a closing narration.
    • Man of Steel had the oil rig rescue, where Clark tears off the door at sea -- and Aquaman has the submarine rescue, with Arthur tearing off the door at sea. Both heroes then help the people get to safety.
    • We also think we might have caught a direct reference to the oil rig from Man of Steel, as there may have been a hologram of oil spilling from that rig when Orm was giving a speech about surface pollution.
    • Wonder Woman and Aquaman both have a circling camera shot around the characters at the top of the cliff, then a dive into the water.
    • Wonder Woman and Aquaman both have a mother who says that “only the strongest” will wield the special weapon.
    • BvS had Bruce saving a young girl from getting crushed by a beam while Aquaman had Arthur saving a young girl from getting crushed by a bell. 
    • Justice League and Aquaman both had Arthur surfing, the former on a parademon and the latter on a sea dragon.

    Wednesday, December 19, 2018

    Preparing to Watch AQUAMAN

    In this episode of the Justice League Universe podcast, we get ready for Aquaman, directed by James Wan. Sam and Nick discuss what they are looking forward to in the film and rundown the major characters. We also share some questions that we have going into the theater. Full scene-by-scene analysis will begin after the U.S. opening weekend. (No spoilers in this episode, because we haven't seen the movie yet.)

    • Creative team behind Aquaman
    • What we're looking forward to (6:00)
    • Character list (19:00)
    • Possible themes (42:25)
    • Questions on our minds (54:00)
    Follow @JLUpodcast on Twitter
    Contributors: @ottensam @JLUPodN @raveryn @derbykid @wondersyd
    Bonus Content and forthcoming Man of Steel analysis:

    Tuesday, December 18, 2018

    JLU Scene-by-Scene: Justice League Scene 18

    This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scene 18 (Diana Prince and Victor Stone meeting face-to-face) of Justice League.

    • Diana using her empathy and human connection
    • Diana's car and clothing on a generic city street
    • Cyborg's arrival and the city lights
    • Isolation and collaboration, Cyborg's early arc
    • Connections to BvS and Wonder Woman
    • Cyborg's gifts
    • Cyborg flies away
    Follow @JLUpodcast on Twitter
    Contributors: @ottensam @derbykid @raveryn @JLUPodN @wondersyd

    Bonus Content and forthcoming Man of Steel analysis:

    Monday, December 17, 2018

    JLU Scene-by-Scene: Justice League Scene 17

    This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scene 17 (Diana and Vic chatting on the batcomputer) of Justice League.

    • Diana tries to "dig up" Victor Stone
    • Intersections in the Justice Leaguers stories
    • STAR Labs footage of Silas and Victor Stone, comparison to BvS
    • Victor's text and images on the batcomputer
    • "Are you Victor Stone?"
    • Diana and Alfred
    Follow @JLUpodcast on Twitter
    Contributors: @ottensam @raveryn @derbykid @JLUPodN @wondersyd

    Bonus Content and forthcoming Man of Steel analysis:

    <Transcript below>

    Monday, December 10, 2018

    JLU Scene-by-Scene: Justice League Scene 16

    This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scene 16 (Bruce Wayne meeting Barry Allen) of Justice League.

    • Recap of what we know about Barry Allen
    • Location of Central City
    • Barry Allen's apartment and prototype suit
    • Bruce Wayne and Barry Allen duel of wits
    • Batarang and visual parallels to BvS
    • Bruce is putting together a team, and Barry needs friends
    • Barry's bad hair day and brunch?
    • Barry's explanation of the speed force
    • Physics and details
    • Flash caloric intake
    • "Special fight team" and rich, product placement
    • Location of Central City, reprise
    Follow @JLUpodcast on Twitter

    Contributors: @ottensam @JLUPodN @raveryn @derbykid @wondersyd

    Bonus Content and forthcoming Man of Steel analysis:

    BvS Giveaway:

    Tuesday, December 4, 2018

    JLU Scene-by-Scene: Justice League Scene 15

    This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scene 15 (Diana's history lesson to Bruce about the past invasion attempt) of Justice League.

    • Steppenwolf, the End of Worlds
    • Parademons and missed opportunities
    • Weak connections to BvS
    • Motherboxes, Unity, and Power
    • The action and the characters in the scene (Green Lantern!)
    • God vs. Man (BvS) is now Gods and Men and Women together (JL)
    • Doomsday clock has a snooze button and Bruce's attitude
    • The three motherboxes on Earth
    • Diana leary of leadership
    • Cyborg listening in low-tech style
    Follow @JLUpodcast on Twitter
    Contributors: @ottensam @derbykid @raveryn @wondersyd @NBego

    Bonus Content:
    BvS Giveaway:

    Sunday, December 2, 2018

    JLU Scene-by-Scene: Justice League Scenes 13-14

    This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scene 13 (Cyborg discovers Batman's identity) and Scene 14 (Diana discovers Batman's hanger) of Justice League.

    • Cyborg's apartment and family photo
    • New abilities
    • Batcave camera and Batman's identity
    • Autumn, what year?
    • The Flying Fox
    • Bruce and Diana's relationship
    Follow @JLUpodcast on Twitter
    Contributors: @ottensam @derbykid @raveryn @wondersyd @NBego
    Bonus Content:
    BvS Giveaway information:

    <Transcript below>