The next two weeks will decide the fate of the Justice League movie. It'll open in Japan and Pakistan later this week and debuts in Lebanon on the 30th. The film should be over/under $325 million worldwide as of yesterday, with a solid $10.55m Tuesday in North America for a new $111.9m five-day cume. At least it has already passed Green Lantern and Catwoman.
It’ll be the next two weeks, specifically the Thanksgiving holiday in North America and the general worldwide legs overseas that will determine whether the film will be a disappointment or an outright money loser. The good news is that it has earned double the domestic take overseas, meaning that it may well earn triple its domestic gross worldwide. And yes, that’s good news, because we could have easily seen a situation where the film opened small and had an overseas split closer to Wonder Woman (50/50) than Batman v Superman (33/67).
I’ll go into this next week once we get more info, but Justice League may be yet another example of why/how domestic box office is still so damn important even to global-targeted would-be blockbusters. So what kind of grand total are we looking at here? Well, let’s play around with the calculator for a moment…
Come what may, if the film plays like The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn 2 in terms of legs and domestic/overseas splits, then we’re looking at a $195 million domestic (that’s bad) and a $585m worldwide cume (also very bad, or less than Transformers: The Last Knight or even It). Conversely, if it plays like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part I (a 2.35x multiplier), then we’re looking at a $220m domestic total, which is still lower than Logan or Fate of the Furious. Of course, Fate of the Furious made $1 billion overseas, but that’s not happening here.
Removing Wonder Woman from the equation, a 2.22x multiplier — average for the DCEU — gets the film to $210 million, while a multiplier closer to Suicide Squad (2.44x) gets it to $230m and a run closer to the Hunger Games sequels and the first Twilight gets it to around $255m. The hope-against-hope scenario is where Justice League earns decent word of mouth and plays like a well-liked general audiences family fantasy, like Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (3.1x) or even Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2.9x) or Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2.85x).
Legs like that, which will take JL anywhere from $267 million to $292m domestic. That still won’t qualify as a success, but it will argue that general audiences liked what they saw and that positioning Justice League as a season premiere (as opposed to a season finale) may pay off down the line. Apples and oranges perhaps, but Chris Nolan’s Batman Begins was not the biggest hit in the world back in 2005, earning $205m (from a $72m Wed-Sun debut) and $371m worldwide. But folks liked it, the critics liked it, and the payoff was the game-changing $1 billion+ gross of The Dark Knight.
But put that comparison aside for a moment. The other big factor is how well it plays overseas over the next two-to-three weeks. If we’re looking at a 2/1 split, then a Deathly Hallows part I run gets it to $665 million worldwide while a run like the Hunger Games sequels, the first Twilight and the earlier Harry Potter movies means a $750m-$775m global cume. The alleged word is that $700m is the break-even point, so while the movie won’t be incredibly popular, it might sneak into the black by the edge of its teeth, especially if we do get some kind of “alternate cut” on post-theatrical release.
Obviously, there are rosier scenarios, like Justice League indeed playing like Fantastic Beasts in more ways than one. That film earned a mediocre $234 million domestic but powered it overseas for an $814m global cume. And as awful as that $94m debut was, I will argue that a leggier Justice League that gets to $800m+ worldwide is a pretty okay result. If we look at Justice League not as a culmination movie but as a soft reboot/introductory title, the question becomes whether audiences like what they had to see, specifically in terms of the characters.
If they like Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman (that franchise is already gold regardless), Jason Momoa’s Aquaman (I believe in James Wan) and/or Ezra Miller’s Flash, that’s a good sign for the long haul considering the next batch of likely DC movies. And yeah, while we may not need and may not get a Man of Steel 2, there is a case to be made for tossing Henry Cavill’s “good-hearted schmuck” Superman into a later DC Films offering as an added value element, just as Marvel has done with their third shot at making Bruce Banner cool. Ditto with Ray Fisher’s Cyborg (Fisher is fine in an understated turn and more Joe Morton is always a net-plus).
In a skewed way, Justice League has found itself in a position similar to Power Rangers and Ghostbusters. Power Rangers was far better than it had any right to be, operating as a kind of sleek, low-fi, character-driven origin story that felt like a cross between Chronicle and the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. But it earned just $140 million global on a $100m budget. Ditto Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters, which offered Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon as crowd-pleasing new Ghostbusters but earned $128m domestic but just $228m worldwide on a $144m budget. Thus, both would-be franchise starters got stalled on the first try.
In both cases, the first films nailed the main characters just right but didn’t quite create a compelling story around them. And in both cases the films A) lost money, B) earned mixed or mixed-negative reviews and C) didn’t display the kind of legs that would argue for a continuation or any potential for “break out sequel” status the next go-around. But just because Justice League is probably dead doesn’t mean that DC Comics movies are toast. Wonder Woman is now WB’s most important franchise, while I would be shocked if James Wan’s Aquaman isn't at least a crowd-pleasing, meat-and-potatoes entertainment. You don’t need a cinematic universe to have DC Comics movies.
I’ve said over the last few years that Warner Bros./Time Warner Inc. is more than just Batman and Harry Potter. There is zero reason why WB can’t thrive on a stand-alone Wonder Woman series and periodic DC Comics adaptations like Flashpoint, Aquaman or Matt Reeves’ Batman movie, which will be slated alongside the LEGO films, the JK Rowling stuff, the Conjuring Universe stuff and the New Line Cinema studio programmers among other bigger and smaller movies. Heck, if Tomb Raider, Rampage, Ready Player One or The Meg hit it big next year, WB may finally be confident enough to end the DC Films cinematic universe in favor of merely making movies that are based on DC comic books.