Justice League poised to end theatrical run as one of DCEU's least successful films

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Dec 18, 2017, 12:11 PM EST (Updated)

The DC Extended Universe has been divisive since it began, as critics and audiences alike have fiercely argued the merits (or lack thereof) of each film ever since Man of Steel landed in theaters four years ago. Whether you like the films or not, it's hard to argue that Justice League wasn't an important milestone both for the DCEU and for Warner Bros. Pictures.

Finally, five years after the Avengers got their big-screen debut, DC Comics' venerable (and significantly older) superteam were getting their turn. Finally, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, and Aquaman were going to team up on a movie screen. It was an exciting and somewhat astounding moment. What might be even more astounding, though, is where the film's box office went.

Initial projections for the film's box-office chances were strong, predicting a $120 million North American opening weekend and up to $355 million worldwide. That would have given DC Films the second-best opening weekend of its running, behind Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. That didn't happen, and the film ended up just shy of $100 million at the domestic box office over the first three days of its release. Though it did better internationally (though still shy of projections), that made it the lowest domestic opening of any DCEU film thus far, including Suicide Squad, a film with many characters who were considerably less known. 

Now the film is nearing the end of its box-office run (it came out more than a month ago) and there's another sad projection. According to Gitesh Pandya, founder of Box Office Mojo (easily the most convenient source for box-office data online), the film's final international box-office tally is expected to come in at around $675 million. Now, that is a lot of money. Make no mistake. Justice League was seen by a lot of people, but when compared to the rest of the DCEU, that puts it ahead of only Man of Steel in the final worldwide box-office race. In fact, domestically, Man of Steel is actually going to beat Pandya's $235 million box-office projection. Wonder Woman -- which, again, was once considered to be a huge risk -- is the top DCEU film in North America, with more than $400 million. 

Now, this is not a debate about the film's cinematic merits. It's not about whether it's a good or bad movie. This is about how surprising it is that a film this big, featuring this many stars and this many popular characters, underperformed. Again, $675 million is a lot of money, but this is an interesting development for a studio that was already struggling to catch up to Marvel's box-office juggernaut. 

So what happened? Well, we will no doubt hear plenty of analysis in the coming days from the experts, but there are many factors to consider. One is the divided fan reaction to Dawn of Justice. Despite Wonder Woman striking gold this year, she wasn't necessarily enough to carry the movie to a record box-office run, and some fans have never reacted well to Henry Cavill's Superman or Ben Affleck's Batman.

Another factor is that the film was facing some heavy competition, including Marvel's Thor: Ragnarok, Pixar's Coco, and now Star Wars: The Last JediJustice League did get a certain amount of time to itself in the spotlight, but people can only buy so many movie tickets. Still one more might have been the film's somewhat scattershot marketing, which alternately depicted it as an apocalyptic epic, an adventure comedy, and a straight-up comic book spectacle. 

Whatever the case, despite all that money, Justice League is shaping up to be a box-office disappointment for Warner Bros. That doesn't mean DC Films is done, but it does mean they're likely rethinking some things.