Warner Bros. and New Line found superhero success at a lower budget four years ago. Can they do it again?
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As James Gunn continues his plans to refresh DC Studios, Warner Bros. has several superhero films to release in 2023, starting with New Line’s “Shazam! Fury of the Gods,” the sequel to the family-friendly superhero blockbuster starring Asher Angel as Billy Batson and Zachary Levi as Billy’s superpowered alter ego Shazam.
The second film may not be as super, though. Pre-release projections for “Shazam 2” are predicting an opening of $35 million-38 million from 4,000+ screens. That range is only slightly higher than the $33 million earned by “Birds of Prey,” a film that barely reached the breakeven point in early 2020 with $84.1 million domestic and $205.3 million worldwide before the pandemic shut down theaters globally. And it’s substantially lower than the first movie, highlighting the challenge in energizing audiences around one of DC’s lesser-known heroes.
Four years ago, “Shazam!” became a solid box office success for Warner and New Line, presenting audiences with a hopeful, light-hearted vibe. Made on a reported $100 million production budget — considerably cheaper than most superhero blockbusters — “Shazam!” earned a $53.5 million domestic opening weekend in early April 2019; and while the release of the record-breaking “Avengers: Endgame” took away the film’s legs it still earned $140 million domestic and $365 million worldwide.
With the same $100 million production price tag as its predecessor, an opening weekend in the currently projected range wouldn’t seal the fate of “Shazam 2,” but it would mean the film would have to leg out considerably to get even close to what the first “Shazam” made.
That, of course, requires strong word of mouth similar to the first “Shazam!”, which got an A on CinemaScore and a 90% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes. At the time of writing the review embargo for “Fury of the Gods” had not dropped, but as long as reviews are still generally positive the film could position itself to overperform from walk-up ticket sales if audience buzz is strong.
Another advantage “Shazam 2” will have over the next two weeks is it will have no other competition for families this weekend, with the last major kid-friendly release being “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” a month ago. Over the past two weekends we’ve seen “Creed III” and “Scream VI” find successful openings by providing something unique to the current theatrical market, and “Shazam 2” will stand on the marquee as a similar standout offering for those with young children until Universal releases “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” in three weeks.
In drawing general audiences, Warner Bros. will have to overcome the sense of ennui that seems to have befallen DC over the past several months. It was just this time last year that “The Batman” stood as a major win for Warner Bros. with $770.9 million grossed globally, but the months that followed were among the most turbulent for DC with the cancellation of “Batgirl” following the Warner Bros. Discovery merger; the box office and critical struggles of “Black Adam”; and the exit of several DC stars and filmmakers following the hiring of James Gunn and Peter Safran as the new heads of DC Studios.
Gunn and Safran are now at work establishing a new, unified vision for DC films and media, but it will be another couple of years before the world sees the fruits of their work. In the meantime, “Shazam 2” is the first of several DC films greenlit under previous franchise chief Walter Hamada that Warner will release in 2023, with the highly anticipated “The Flash” coming in June, followed by “Blue Beetle” and “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.”
For his part, “Shazam” director David F. Sandberg has said that Gunn’s hiring and DC’s impending reboot does not necessarily mean the end of his series.
“I don’t know about the full-scale plans, but they keep telling me that there’s nothing in ‘Shazam’ that conflicts with what they’ve got in mind for the future. So maybe, yeah, there could be more ‘Shazam,'” the filmmaker told the Playlist.
In today’s cinematic universe-driven market, a good chunk of audiences expect that they’re not just going to get a good film from superhero flicks these days. They’re also going to get teases that fill in some bigger picture. Barring a possible threequel tease, that won’t be happening with “Shazam! Fury of the Gods!,” so it will just have to sell itself to the public on its own terms, just like superhero films used to do before Nick Fury showed up in Tony Stark’s house.
Box Office Reporter • email@example.com • Twitter: @jeremyfuster