‘Suicide Squad’ Obliterates Box Office Competition With $20 Million Thursday

The Warner Bros. anti-hero mashup nearly doubled the previous August record

Critics may hate it, but Warner Bros. “Suicide Squad” is well on its way to the biggest August opening ever, after reeling in $20.5 million during Thursday night preview screenings.

The weekend’s only other wide release, EuropaCorp’s “Nine Lives,” is yet to report Thursday numbers.

“Suicide Squad,” the latest DC Extended Universe film, has been savaged by observers for its dark tone and jumbled storyline. It has an abysmal 27 percent score on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes and a 41 on Metacritic.

“Suicide Squad” nearly doubled the previous Thursday August record, held by “Guardians of the Galaxy” with $11.2 million. The movie made $2.4 million of that total on the 382 IMAX screens it played on.

And after its stellar Thursday opening, early projections that the movie could open as high as $140 million — which would be the biggest August opening ever — look like they could be in sight, even with the wave of poor reviews. According to IMDb traffic data, “Suicide Squad” is outperforming the previous DC Cinematic Universe film,”Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which opened to $166 million in March. Warner Bros. is more conservative, estimating an opening weekend between $100 million and $125 million across 4,255 theaters nationwide.

That would show the degree of devotion DC fanboys have toward the film, reviews be damned. Fans of the movie have even petitioned to shut down Rotten Tomatoes.

Director David Ayer‘s anti-hero mashup features a band of incarcerated misfit villains who are recruited by the government and assembled into “Task Force X.” Their assignment: defeat an enemy they are uniquely suited to take on in exchange for some relief in their sentences. The movie has an ensemble cast including Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis and Cara Delevingne. It also features Joel Kinnaman, Jay Hernandez, Jai Courtney, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Scott Eastwood and Ike Barinholtz.

A $140 million opening for “Suicide Squad” would easily break the all-time August record, currently held by rival Marvel’s 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which hauled in $94 million during its first weekend. It would put “Suicide Squad” in third place out of this year’s films, trailing only the $179 million opening recorded by “Captain America: Civil War” and the $166 million brought in by the previous DC Cinematic Universe film, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” — which was also panned by critics.

Unlike “Batman v Superman,” “Suicide Squad” looks like it won’t be playing in China, where superhero movies — particularly those from DC rival Marvel — routinely bring in more than $100 million. Marvel’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” took in $240 million last year.

Warner Bros. had made significant efforts to help “Suicide Squad” become one of the 34 imported films allowed into Chinese theaters this year, from securing a PG-13 rating and even changing the Chinese title to “Task Force X,” after the Suicide Squad’s government name. But an insider told TheWrap that the movie’s dark tone and look likely was an insurmountable hurdle for China’s state censorship body, which has to approve every imported film. The lighter and brighter aesthetic of the Marvel Cinematic Universe seems to play better to both Chinese fans and censors.

The other new movie of note, “Nine Lives,” stars Kevin Spacey as a father who becomes a talking cat. The film also features Jennifer Garner, Cheryl Hines and Cristopher Walken. “Nine Lives” is playing in just 2,264 theaters, and is expected to rake in between $7 million and $8 million this weekend.

“Nine Lives” has not yet been reviewed, and therefore has no rating on Rotten Tomatoes nor Metacritic.

With the paucity of major new releases aside from “Suicide Squad,” this weekend’s box office should include plenty of holdovers. Universal’s Matt Damon thriller “Jason Bourne” bowed to $59 million last week and should remain in the No. 2 slot.