Warner Bros. looks to ‘Suicide Squad’ to boost its DC film slate
Warner Bros. may need a hero to beat down the early negativity surrounding its crucial DC film slate — but it also could use a villain or two.
The new comic book movie “Suicide Squad,” about a group of bad guys recruited by the government for a special mission against an evil force, is expected to make a killing in its opening weekend, starting Thursday night.
The PG-13 film could gross $125 million to $140 million in ticket sales through Sunday in the U.S. and Canada, according to pre-release audience surveys.
That would make it one of the five largest opening weekends of the year so far. It would also easily surpass 2014’s Marvel smash “Guardians of the Galaxy” as the biggest August opening weekend ever ($94 million).
Although there’s little doubt that “Suicide Squad,” which cost $175 million to produce, will be a financial success, the studio is looking at more than just its bottom line.
“Just like with ‘Batman v Superman,’ the first weekend is going to be bulletproof,” said Eric Handler, a media analyst with MKM Partners who follows box-office trends. “The question now is what are audiences going to think of the film.”
Burbank-based Warner Bros. needs a movie like “Suicide Squad” to generate positive audience buzz for its DC franchise, after Zack Snyder’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” was tagged with negative reviews and audience reactions. The film ended up being a modest commercial success.
Warner has bet heavily on its venerable DC Comics library, having committed to a robust lineup of big-budget superhero pictures, including “Wonder Woman” and “Justice League,” both set for release next year.
In a worrisome sign, early reviews for “Suicide Squad” have been mixed to negative, according to Rotten Tomatoes. But there is still hope that audiences will embrace the movie, analysts said.
Several factors are working in its favor. The highly anticipated “Suicide Squad” is Fandango’s biggest August pre-seller ever, the online ticket merchant said Tuesday.
Moviegoers have flocked to offbeat comic-book fare in recent years, propelling the success of 20th Century Fox’s “Deadpool” and Disney’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
“Suicide Squad” features a blockbuster cast, with Margot Robbie as crazed former psychiatrist Harley Quinn, Will Smith as gun-for-hire Deadshot, and Jared Leto as a heavily tattooed Joker. Robbie’s turn as Quinn, in particular, has sparked excitement from fans viewing the trailers online. David Ayer, known for the 2014 World War II movie “Fury,” was brought onboard to direct.
“The promotion has been great,” Handler said. “People are excited by the sense that this is the anti-superhero movie.”
DC and Warner Bros. have been dogged by persistent comparisons to Disney-owned superhero studio Marvel, which has spent years building up goodwill with fans by releasing well-received pictures such as “Captain America: Civil War.”
Underscoring the fierce rivalry with Marvel, Ayer had to apologize this week for uttering an expletive against the Disney studio at the “Suicide Squad” premiere in New York.
“Batman v Superman” ultimately grossed $873 million in worldwide ticket sales, but the lackluster critical reactions raised concerns for the franchise’s future. Reviewers have complained that the company’s vision for its heroes was too bleak, compared with the more buoyant, quippy Marvel pictures.
“They just haven’t found their footing yet,” said Shawn Robbins, an analyst with BoxOffice.com. “Next year’s the big litmus test.”
Warner took heed of their critics by designating executives Jon Berg and Geoff Johns as the heads of its DC Films brand. Johns, a well-respected comic book industry veteran, was recently named president of DC Entertainment, reporting to Diane Nelson.
“Suicide Squad” won’t have much competition at the multiplex. The only other new release this weekend is “Nine Lives,” a PG-rated family movie starring Kevin Spacey as an uptight businessman who is stuck inside the body of his family cat. The movie, distributed by Paris-based film company EuropaCorp, is expected to gross less than $10 million through Sunday.
Follow Ryan Faughnder on Twitter for more entertainment business coverage: @rfaughnder
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