Blue Beetle is the next Warner Bros. Discover release hoping to beat the DCEU box office curse that has plagued the studios’ big-budget superhero films for several years, and which has already sank two high-profile releases so far in 2023.
Unfortunately, there is little to suggest Blue Beetle is headed for an outcome any better than what we’ve seen from the DCEU recently. Thursday previews tallied $3.3 million, ahead of a weekend that looks to deliver about $30 million in domestic sales. Those numbers are nearly identical to another DCEU picture earlier this year that wound up among the worst performers in studio history.
Let’s take a deep dive into the financials for the DCEU, and determine when the problem really started and what it means for Blue Beetle’s box office and cinematic future.
Shazam! took $53 million domestic in its debut weekend back in 2019 on its way to $366 million worldwide. Birds of Prey managed $33 million in North America a year later and just ahead of the first Covid pandemic outbreak and shutdown, finishing with $205 million in global receipts.
Then, Wonder Woman 1984 in 2020 and The Suicide Squad in 2021 both opened during some of the worst Covid months, with day-and-date streaming release on HBO Max, so their domestic freshman weekends were especially stunted, to the tune of $16.7 million for the former and $26 million for the latter. The Wonder Woman sequel went on to gross just $169.6 million worldwide, and Suicide Squad’s sequel to a similar $168.7 million result around the world.
Much was made of Black Adam’s admittedly more impressive (relatively speaking) $67 million bow stateside and in Canada, before it left theaters with a grand total of $393 million globally last year. That was followed by Shazam! Fury of the Gods, which opened earlier this year at $30 million domestic and a $133.8 worldwide total.
Lastly, The Flash hit theaters just a few months ago at $55 million on its first weekend in North America and ended its run with a global cume of $268.5 million.
That’s seven movies released across every season for five years straight. Every single one of them failed to top $400 million. The highest grossing domestic opening of any of these films is only able to match the worst domestic openings of the entire history of Marvel Studio’s MCU releases. Even during the pandemic, and even with movies going quickly to streaming, the MCU was opening far north of even the lowest DCEU openings in North America.
If you need a specific direct comparison to Marvel in the current marketplace, where not just DCEU projects but a multitude of other would-be blockbusters and brands have struggled or suffered at the box office, then look at Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania. That 2023 MCU release was considered an underperform from the get-go in its $106 million in its domestic opening weekend, and it ended its run at $476 million worldwide.
For comparison, if Blue Beetle opens at $30 million domestic, then it needs to gross 250% more internationally just for its total global opening gross to match Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania’s domestic debut.
I realize we’re comparing a new franchise in a dying universe to a sequel within the most successful overarching brand and universe in cinematic history. But math is math, and my point is that the current worst-performing Marvel movies are performing at levels the DCEU wishes it could achieve just to justify its existence.
So the real point is, the pandemic has had an effect, no doubt at all, but that effect is not the cause of the DCEU’s collapse. The DCEU brand is tainted too much, to the point audience don’t even trust Batman anymore (as The Flash demonstrated) — that’s the fact of why DCEU films are underperforming or flopping, plain and simple. Because audience simply don’t trust it, or like it, or even really care anymore.
Which means Blue Beetle probably needs to blow past all predictions at this point and put up at least $50 million in domestic figures, and overperform internationally in a major way as well, to have a shot at even accomplishing a simple feat no other DCEU release has been capable of performing for half a decade — top $400 million in worldwide receipts and claim the crown as the best performance by a DC property since Aquaman in 2018.
But it’s unlikely any of this will really matter. Blue Beetle isn’t fighting for its survival as a franchise starter that continues into the new DCU and generates sequels. At this point, the question is whether the character Blue Beetle — and specifically, Xolo Maridueña in the role as the character of Blue Beetle — has enough audience interest to make it worthwhile for him to carry over into the DCU’s new version of the world.
James Gunn said Superman: Legacy is the first actual film in the new DCU, and that the Blue Beetle film opening this weekend introduces the first character of the DCU. The way it’s all been worded seems to indicate the Blue Beetle film opening this weekend is not set within the world of the new DCU, but that if the film does well enough then the character and actor Maridueña could appear again after the DCU starts.
So if Blue Beetle somehow manages to deliver blockbuster results — maybe north of $500 million, for my best guess — then I think the film might be allowed to represent some general continuity for the character, as long as the film doesn’t tie too directly into the previous DCEU films.
Otherwise, I think Blue Beetle will be another DCEU film left behind once the DCU actually launches, and if the film can’t top $400 million then I’m going to seriously doubt whether we see any of the continuation or even character/actor carryover for retconned/rebooted future appearances.
And sadly, the latter is what I expect at this point. All signs so far point to Blue Beetle performing no different than the previous seven DCEU disappointments and flops. This isn’t a statement of the film’s quality or value, it’s just a realistic assessment of the situation. When the numbers so far all match what we’ve seen before and the context is basically the same, there’s not much reason to expect a different outcome.
If Gunn winds up simply attempting another “multiverse” mashup of bits and pieces from what came before, combined with new rebooted stuff, then I fear it’ll just be another mess for someone else to clean up in a few years. It looks increasingly obvious that the DCEU has lost any popularity or benefit of the doubt with audiences, and none of what remains has proven capable of winning viewers back again.
Or maybe I’m wrong, maybe somehow getting rid of Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, and the rest of the crew and character iterations that were around when the DCEU was actually doing blockbuster business — like it or not, the fact is Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad, and Wonder Woman were all hit films that grossed much closer to MCU box office levels, and it was only after the major executive interference derailed everything that the DCEU box office fell off a cliff.
This isn’t to say they should revert back to the early plans and casting, but rather to say that whatever anyone thinks of the stumbles and controversies of the earliest days of the DCEU, the last seven years of failure proves that even with Affleck and Gadot and Cavill returning in cameos and supporting roles, the films no longer interest audiences. Why, then, anyone expects the same audiences to react differently to the retention of less known characters and performers carrying over into a soft-rebooted universe, I don’t know. But here we are.
I’ll be back with updates and analysis of Blue Beetle’s box office debut, plus more reviews and reporting on other films. So, be sure to check back here again soon, dear readers.