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Why Birds of Prey’s second-weekend box office numbers will be crucial

Even though the movie nearly made its reported budget in its first weekend, it didn’t live up to box office expectations.

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey.
Warner Bros.
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

With all the entertainment industry attention focused on the Oscars and its history-making results, some might have missed some of the bad news at the box office. Birds of Prey, Warner Bros.’ Harley Quinn-focused spinoff film, did not live up to its $50 million expectations and only delivered $33 million domestically. Worldwide, the movie made an estimated $81 million.

While these numbers may seem like a lot in any other context — and even though Birds of Prey nearly made back its reported $84.5 million budget — the figures are paltry for Warner Bros.’ DC superhero movies. In fact, Birds of Prey now has the worst opening box office of that family of movies, which includes Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Shazam, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Suicide Squad, the much-maligned movie that gave us Margot Robbie’s first turn as Harley Quinn.

And with this lukewarm opening comes doubt over Harley Quinn’s future in the movies. The fear is that, because people didn’t see Birds of Prey in droves, Warner Bros. may blame the film’s opening gross on lack of interest in a Harley-centric movie. That read echoes an argument from the past, when studio heads used box office failures like Elektra and Catwoman as arguments against female superhero movies.

Warner Bros. has even changed the name of the movie to Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey, in an attempt to get audiences to recognize the character and find movie times and the movie itself online.

But there’s some hope for the movie yet, despite this not-great opening weekend.

While it couldn’t live up to the opening box offices of Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, Birds of Prey has been critically praised. It currently sits with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 80 percent “fresh” — higher than more commercially successful DC movies Aquaman, Justice League, Man of Steel, and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

It’s possible that good word of mouth and some good reviews could help Birds of Prey pick up steam throughout the rest of its theatrical run. It’s too early to really judge Birds of Prey’s future regardless, especially when you consider that Harley Quinn doesn’t have the same mainstream clout (though she’s wildly popular in DC’s comic books) as flagship heroes like Wonder Woman and Batman.

The bellwether to look for at next week’s box office results is how big of a drop occurs. Blockbusters’ second weeks inevitably make less money, but in the case of Wonder Woman, it only dropped 45 percent from its opening weekend in 2016. A significant stumble wouldn’t be good for the movie. But a smaller drop (in that Wonder Woman range) usually indicates continued momentum, and could be a sign that Birds of Prey will have legs at the box office, maybe even some wings.

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