Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice came out of the gate torching records. The film's box office haul was incongruent with its critical reception — it made hundreds of millions of dollars despite being panned by critics. For a second there it looked like fans were out to prove critics wrong and prove director Zack Snyder, who had claimed he made a movie for comic fans and not critics, right.
Then it stalled.
In its second weekend, the movie's ticket sales dropped 69 percent — a figure steeper than the average 60 percent decline superhero movies usually face, according to Bloomberg. And BoxOffice.com reports that the film's box office is expected to drop more than 50 percent in its third weekend; Snyder's last film, Man of Steel, dropped 50 percent in its third weekend, and Batman v Superman is expected to do slightly worse than that.
That isn't great.
Warner Bros. needs Batman v Superman to take in more than $1 billion worldwide to recoup the money it spent on producing and marketing the film. It's currently at around $720 million worldwide, with repeated drops in ticket sales and a general lack of momentum making studio executives nervous that it won't reach the billion-dollar benchmark.
Not only is Batman v Superman's downward trend not what they were hoping for, it's also apparently unexpected.
"Several sources say Warner Bros. executives were convinced they had the goods with BvS and were shocked when negative reviews began pouring in," the Hollywood Reporter reveals.
But as THR's sources explain, even though the movie is stalling, which might be a sign that Snyder probably isn't the best person to interpret DC's rich comic book universe, Warner Bros. still isn't mulling other options, like bringing in another producer to babysit Snyder before letting him proceed with the studio's next big DC Comics movie, Justice League.
That's a bad move.
Zack Snyder shouldn't be trusted with creative control of the DC Cinematic Universe
The grand idea that everyone wants DC to be more like Marvel, and the suggestion that people didn't like Batman v Superman because it didn't feel like one of Marvel's superhero movies, is a myth.
There are myriad reasons — editing, Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor, a poor plot, a mischaracterization of both Batman and Superman, the "Martha" scene, etc. — that Batman v Superman was groan-worthy on its own. But perhaps the biggest downer is that Batman v Superman felt like Snyder's singular interpretation of DC's comic book superheroes.
That vision has yielded a dark, icy, and uninspiring Superman whose theme music sounds like a rejected Creed song. Meanwhile, Batman is an idiot who couldn't tell a crime lord from a boat. And then there's the undercurrent of aggressive masculinity — as seen in Batman's shirtless CrossFit montage; Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck's shoulder-to-waist ratio and their tight outfits; the sniveling treatment of Lex Luthor; Snyder's bitter response to the criticism of Superman snapping Zod's neck and causing so much destruction in Man of Steel — that permeates the film.
My worry is that Snyder's vision will become representative of the entire DC Cinematic Universe, since Snyder serves as its de facto spokesperson and creative lead in spite of his track record of making terrible comic book films. He's like a reverse Midas of comic book filmmaking, and it seems like he has his hands on the entire DC universe.
There have been news stories about Snyder "helping out" with Warner Bros.' upcoming Aquaman film, and Snyder has said that the bright, witty, and wholesome tone of The CW's The Flash TV show isn't a good fit for the DC Cinematic Universe. He's clearly interested in darkness and grit above all else — even though Superman and Wonder Woman being bright, inspiring and hopeful and the Flash being a "good" man who believes there's goodness in the world are huge parts of those characters' respective comic book histories.
To be clear, Snyder and Warner Bros. have talked about the existence of a brain trust when it comes to organizing DC's Cinematic Universe — that the planning for the next batch of movies belongs to a group of people rather than just Snyder.
But it does seem like Snyder's vision wins out. A lot.
The industry knock on Warner Bros. is that it doesn't have a figure like Kevin Feige, the head of Marvel Studios. Feige's claim to fame is that he planned out the connected Marvel Cinematic Universe and created Marvel's film strategy (i.e., bringing all the Marvel heroes together for The Avengers).
Snyder will be the first person to tell you that he is not Kevin Feige. And maybe if Warner Bros. had a Kevin Feige figure, Snyder would be reined in.
What happens if Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman become Warner Bros.' saving graces?
There's something poetic amidst Batman v Superman's flameout: Warner Bros.' next great hope rests in the hands of the Joker, played by Jared Leto in Suicide Squad, which is set to launch in August. The Joker is the one comic book character that Warner Bros. has gotten right every time. And based on previews, it looks like Leto will do a decent job.
As for Suicide Squad, it's been reported that Warner Bros. conducted reshoots to make the film more lighthearted. That news came out after many of Batman v Superman's bad reviews and critiques took issue with the film's (Snyder's) tone. Perhaps the reshoots were the studio's way of combating (or giving the impression that it's combating) Snyder's creative vision for the DC universe.
What doesn't make a whole lot of sense is, of all the comic films Warner Bros. has in development, why lighten up Suicide Squad? If there's a DC property that meshes with Snyder's dark, cynical, and serious aesthetic, it's Suicide Squad — a film about antiheroes who become black-ops mercenaries. And there are other superhero movies on Warner Bros.' docket that might be better served by the tone swap.
The intriguing question is what will happen if Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman, which comes out in 2017, turn out to be successes. Snyder doesn't seem to be tinkering with or have any control over those projects, so if they do well, will Warner Bros. change its overall approach? After all, the studio responded pretty quickly to the bad reviews of Batman v Superman by announcing the aforementioned Suicide Squad reshoots and bumping up Wonder Woman's release date by a month, to June 2017 instead of July.
And here's where Warner Bros.' lack of a Feige-like figure again comes into play.
Marvel, despite criticisms from high-profile directors like Joss Whedon and Ava DuVernay about being rigid and difficult to work with, has a clear idea of its end goal. It might not be the best thing for directors' creativity or their individual points of view, but it's helped the company achieve consistency in its movies. While that reputation might mean losing talents like DuVernay, who passed on directing the upcoming Black Panther, it also means that Marvel doesn't have an identity crisis like the one Warner Bros. is currently suffering. Nor does it have to meddle with the rest of its movie slate in an attempt to repair what Snyder broke.