Despite disappointing numbers, an extended holiday weekend could help Harley Quinn film recover
“Birds of Prey” may still find emancipation from the box office doldrums, after a surprisingly weak opening weekend that was the worst start for a DC film in a decade.
Heading into its release last Friday, the Harley Quinn film was expected to open to $55 million, with Warner Bros. projecting a more modest opening of $45 million. It came in at $33 million.
One change that could help boost awareness of the film: AMC, Regal Cinemas and Cinemark have changed the title on their ticketing sites from “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” to simply “Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey.” TheWrap reported that the change did not come from Warner Bros. and instead from theater chains to help optimize the title for online search engines.
But it could also be a benefit for the film’s marketing, emphasizing to curious moviegoers who visit those sites that Harley Quinn is the central figure in this film.
Box office returns on opening weekend fell below expectations not only in the U.S. but around the world, resulting in a global launch of just $79.5 million.
Pre-release buzz had seemed to be in its favor, with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 83% and an early February release date that has been good to WB in the past with hits like “The Lego Batman Movie” and as a good launching point for mature blockbusters like “John Wick: Chapter 2.” Despite the box office miss, the one silver lining was that audience metrics were still positive. “Birds of Prey” received a B+ on CinemaScore along with 4/5 on Postrak and 81% verified audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.
While not the wild praise audiences have given to films like “Wonder Woman” or the recent “Spider-Man” films, it’s still strong word of mouth that might help “Birds of Prey” turn a modest profit in the long run.
That begins this weekend, which starts with Valentine’s Day on Friday and ends with Presidents’ Day on Monday. With that extended weekend, there will be more audiences, especially couples, looking to spend a night at the movies. The new releases will each provide something unique that a different portion of the audience might be looking for. “The Photograph” offers a straight-laced romance for Valentine couples. “Fantasy Island” is there for those looking for a horror flick for date night. “Sonic the Hedgehog” will cater to families with kids home from school for an extra day.
But “Birds of Prey” might still be an option for audiences looking for a blockbuster that promises a wild ride. Both social media and critics reviews praised the film for its gonzo aesthetics and snarky humor reminiscent of the popular “Deadpool” films. The lack of familiarity among casual audiences with Harley Quinn and the rest of the DC characters in this film might have left them disinterested by the trailers, but post-release word of mouth may convince some to reconsider.
There’s also another factor that won’t be as much in play as it was last weekend and in the run-up to the film’s release: the Oscars. As we noted on Sunday, the shortened awards season schedule pushed Oscar Sunday up to early February, creating a different kind of environment than that which early February releases in the past and many comic book movies found in the run-up to their release.
DC films like “Batman v Superman,” “Wonder Woman” and “Suicide Squad” were the most-talked about films on social media in the week prior to their release, and the media buzz surrounding those films reflected it. But “Birds of Prey” had to share the pop culture conversation with “1917,” “Parasite” and the discussion over who would win Best Picture. This might have weakened pre-release awareness and interest of the new blockbuster in theaters even if “1917” wasn’t a direct competitor at its sixth weekend in wide release.
While the historic Best Picture victory of “Parasite” will likely give the Korean film one more big box office bump this weekend, the Oscar talk is mostly over and done with now. In a best case scenario for WB, the end of awards season will allow “Birds of Prey” some space to build post-release awareness, and the extended weekend will lead to a strong second frame of $20 million or more over four days.
If these changes pay off, “Birds of Prey” might end up following the path of films that had quiet openings but endured in theaters thanks to audience excitement. One such film was Best Picture Oscar nominee “Ford v Ferrari,” which opened to $31.4 million last November against a $97 million budget. Despite that low number compared to its production spend, analysts expected that the widespread critical and audience acclaim for the film would allow it to leg out well over the holidays and perform well overseas. That’s just what it did with a $116 million domestic and $223 million global run, numbers that should also push “Birds of Prey” out of the red if it were to match.
If that second weekend rebound doesn’t come, “Birds of Prey” will likely join the likes of “Doctor Sleep” and “Motherless Brooklyn” on the list of recent flops for Warner Bros. But if it comes back from this disappointing opening weekend and becomes a modest hit, it may simply be looked back on as a film that did alright but just fell short of the expectations of its DC pedigree. That’s what happened to “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” a sequel that did solid numbers for Universal last summer but didn’t do nearly as well as the other Illumination animated films that came before it.
For “Birds of Prey,” it just depends on whether the moviegoers that come out this Valentine’s Day weekend decide to give Harley, Huntress, Renee, Cassandra and Black Canary another chance.