The future of the DC Extended Universe is looking a lot brighter, and we have “Wonder Woman” to thank for it.
Riding off the rave reviews from critics, Patty Jenkins’ superheroine hit has become the third movie this year to score a domestic opening weekend of over $100 million, finishing with a $103.1 million bow. With overseas totals thrown in, the film has a global start of $228 million, giving Warner Bros. the box office success they were looking for and making the struggles of last month’s “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” an (almost) distant memory.
There are several factors that made “Wonder Woman” into the biggest DC movie in years. Here are the most important:
1. Rave reviews
When early tracking numbers were released for “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” projections were initially set at around $90 million for opening weekend. After poor reviews began surfacing on Rotten Tomatoes, however, those numbers took a hit.
The opposite effect could be seen with “Wonder Woman.” When early tracking numbers came out, analysts were split on the results, with projections ranging from $65-$105 million. But as positive reactions from advance screenings began trickling onto social media, the lower end of the projection range took a steady uptick, peaking with a deluge of positive reviews that gave the film a “Fresh” 93 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
After the rough critical reception “Batman v Superman” and “Suicide Squad” took last year — both scored under 30 percent on the Tomatometer — some moviegoers were skeptical about spending money on another DC Extended Universe title. Strong word-of-mouth dispelled that skepticism, making the movie a must-see for hardcore and casual audiences alike.[powergridprofile powerrank=”4466” node=”267129” type=”person” path=”http://powergrid.thewrap.com/person/patty-jenkins” title=”Patty Jenkins” image=”patty_jenkins_0.jpg”]
2. Lack of competition
Speaking of “must-see,” the last movie that earned that label, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” came out a month ago. Last week’s releases, “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Baywatch,” both underperformed at the office, while the other new release this past weekend, “Captain Underpants,” was marketed as counter-programming for families with kids that might be too young to see Wonder Woman fighting on the battlefields of World War I.
This meant that “Wonder Woman” was left largely without any competition for moviegoers’ attention, further increasing its opening’s status as a can’t-miss event.
“Warner Bros. could have never predicted this when they set ‘Wonder Woman’ for this early June release date, but they have the perfect timing for an industry that came off a lackluster month,” comScore’s Paul Dergarabedian told TheWrap last week. “I think every studio should be happy to see a film like this hit the market and serve as a reset for the summer.”
3. Heroic Marketing
Among the many complaints against last year’s DC movies was the films’ palette and mood. “Batman v Superman,” a film that portrayed its two titular heroes as vigilantes whose presence may be doing more harm than good, was presented with a dark and dreary palette. “Suicide Squad,” meanwhile, emphasizes the chaotic and anarchic attitude of its villainous cast, particularly Harley Quinn and the Joker. This was emphasized with a marketing campaign drenched with garish colors and neon glow. In both instances, heroism was clearly not on the menu.
But with “Wonder Woman,” heroism was on center stage, and the marketing emphasized this. Images of Wonder Woman bravely marching alone into mortal danger were featured in trailers and TV spots. The posters, meanwhile, were colorful and saturated but not excessively so, with warm sunlight shining on Gal Gadot and the rest of the cast. Promo material featured images of Wonder Woman dynamic, fighting poses, save for one poster in which she kneels, sword and shield in hand, like a knight in Amazonian armor. The marketing made it clear that this film would take a different path than recent DC entries — featuring a superhero being a superhero.
4. “Batman v Superman”
And yet, for all the criticism of “BvS,” it can’t be denied that it played a role in this film’s success by allowing Gadot to make her introduction ahead of time. “Wonder Woman” is an origin story, but unlike other origin stories, it had the advantage of already having the audience’s investment in the main character thanks to Gadot’s strong first impression in “BvS.” With Wonder Woman established as a confident heroine whom viewers have already seen charging into battle with Supes and Bats, DC Films and Jenkins can now show the events that moulded Diana Prince into a seasoned warrior.
We could see this tactic of introducing new superhero stars in special cameos prior to their solo debut pay dividends next month with “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” a film that will try to capitalize off of the rave reception audiences gave to leading man Tom Holland’s performance as a teenage Peter Parker in “Captain America: Civil War.”
5. Audiences Want Representation
If the success of films like “Moonlight” and “Get Out” earlier this year weren’t convincing enough, “Wonder Woman” proves it: the demand for more diversity in the director’s chair and in lead roles isn’t just a Twitter hashtag. It’s backed up by money.
According to comScore’s PostTrak, 53 percent of moviegoers who went to see “Wonder Woman” this weekend were female, with 35 percent being women over age 25 compared to 33 percent for men over 25. Male audiences under 25, meanwhile, only made up 14 percent of audiences, compared to 19 percent for women in that age bracket. News of all-female screenings selling out quickly and pictures of girls dressing up as Wonder Woman just further shows that there’s been a demand for a superhero movie icon women could claim as their own.
Jenkins now holds the distinction of making the film with the highest domestic opening weekend of any movie with a female director, blasting by the $85 million made by “Fifty Shades of Grey” in 2015. Also, while the film didn’t reach the $133 million bow of “Suicide Squad,” it has put itself in a good position to outperform that movie’s holdover numbers. Poor reception caused “Suicide Squad” to take a 67 percent hit in its second frame. With critical acclaim behind it, “Wonder Woman” is not likely to take as hard a fall.
As for the larger demand for more women in the director’s chair, it’s unfair to label any film, even one as big as “Wonder Woman,” as the cure-all for better representation. A survey taken by TheWrap earlier this year showed that 92 percent of movies on the slates for the Big Six studios through 2019 will be directed by men. Still, there are some encouraging signs of progress. Along with the success of “Wonder Woman,” the movie world just saw Sofia Coppola become the first woman to win the Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival with “The Beguiled.”
2017 will also see several major art house films from women get released soon. Among these is Annapurna’s “Detroit,” which is directed by Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow. Disney’s 2018 slate also has three movies — “A Wrinkle In Time,” “Mulan,” and “Gigantic” — all of which will be directed by women.
“I feel that the conversation is here now and people are realizing that we CAN do different now,” Melissa Silverstein, founder of the site Woman and Hollywood, told TheWrap. “What this is saying is that women have competence and they are ready to work — we just need the opportunities and we need to be hired and Patty Jenkins is just a clear example of this — she hit it harder than we could’ve ever expected.”