Birds of Prey Was A Box Office Disappointment (But Can It Be Saved?)

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) was a box office disappointment, and it remains to be seen if it can salvage profits on the home media release. In the aftermath of the infamous Justice League fiasco, the DCEU rebounded nicely by focusing more on quality standalone films, rather than trying to replicate Marvel’s approach of an interconnected shared cinematic universe. This new strategy produced well-received hits Aquaman and Shazam, both of which have sequels on the way. There’s also excitement for Wonder Woman 1984, followup to the 2017 blockbuster. Birds of Prey was coming out as DC films were riding a nice hot streak.

While Birds of Prey was never expected to break records during its theatrical run, the expectation was it would be another winner for WB and DC. From a critical perspective, that proved to be true. Birds of Prey earned widely positive reviews, with many praising its sense of fun and Margot Robbie’s lead performance as Harley Quinn. Unfortunately, the film ultimately underperformed at the box office, posting the lowest opening for any DC movie in nearly a decade. Sadly, the odds are stacked against Birds of Prey if it is to rebound from its poor showing at the multiplex.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, WB made the decision to release Birds of Prey early on Digital, giving people another new movie to watch while quarantined at home. That move certainly makes sense, but it may not be enough to give Birds of Prey the boost it truly needs. Here, we examine why.

Related: Harley Quinn Has An Exciting DCEU Future (Without Batman or the Joker)

Premiering in February, Birds of Prey grossed $33 million domestically in its first three days, well below the initial estimates of between $40-60 million. It finished with $84.1 million in the U.S. and $199.1 million globally, both figures by far the lowest in the DCEU to date. Initially, it looked like Birds of Prey’s moderate budget would help soften the blow. The movie cost $84.5 million to produce, and the general rule of thumb is a film needs to earn twice its budget in order to break even. By that logic, Birds of Prey needed to gross approximately $169 million worldwide in order to make its money back. It clearly hit that mark, so on the surface it would appear the film was successful in some sense of the word. However, that wasn’t the case here.

A couple of weeks into Birds of Prey’s run, reports indicated it needed to make $300 million globally and $100 million domestically just to break even, with some believing its budget was actually closer to $100 million. It fell well short of hitting those targets, which is why Birds of Prey is considered a box office disappointment. WB attempted to save face by requesting movie ticket websites display the film as Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey (in an effort to make it more appealing to casual moviegoers), but that late decision did little to help the film’s commercial prospects. In retrospect, the studio probably would have benefitted from emphasizing Harley’s name up front from the get-go, considering she was the movie’s most popular character. Of course, there’s no way of knowing for sure that would have improved Birds of Prey’s numbers, but it probably wouldn’t have hurt. Birds of Prey isn’t the most recognizable comics title and the R-rating limited the potential audience, so a different marketing approach might have done some good.

Related: Birds of Prey: Harley Quinn Movie Is The Best DCEU Film By Far

Some of the movies hitting on-demand early due to the COVID-19 pandemic, like The Way Back and Onward, are looking to soften the blow of theaters closing right after they opened. Birds of Prey was already slowing down prior to the outbreak (it earned just $2.1 million domestically in the last proper weekend), so it’s simply looking for a new lease on life. History is full of movies that caught on with viewers on home media after struggling in theaters, meaning there’s definitely a precedent for Birds of Prey finding a new audience as people add titles to their quarantine watchlists. The question then becomes if that would be enough to salvage the film’s bottom line and help get it in the black. Odds are, it won’t be.

If that $300 million figure is indeed Birds of Prey’s break even point, then the movie needs to generate approximately $100.9 million in revenue just to make its money back. That’s a large amount of money for a home media release. For instance, Suicide Squad made $82.2 million in DVD and Blu-ray sales, while Batman v Superman brought in $80.2 million. It looks like only the massive, bonafide event blockbusters clear the $100 million mark, like The Force Awakens ($190.6 million) and Avengers: Endgame ($104.7 million). It’s worth mentioning those numbers only account for physical disc sales, meaning digital rentals and purchases aren’t factored in. However, they provide a snapshot of what kind of business Birds of Prey has to do on the home market. It needs to sell nearly as many DVDs and Blu-rays as Endgame (the highest-grossing film of all-time) in order to just break even. That seems unlikely to happen, so Birds of Prey might just have to take a loss.

It’ll be interesting to see if Birds of Prey’s lackluster performance has any impact on future Harley Quinn-centric films. She’ll be seen in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, but things are uncertain beyond that. WB might be inclined to green light something like Gotham City Sirens (which Robbie is still interested in), teaming Harley up with more recognizable characters like Poison Ivy and Catwoman. There may not be much financial incentive to do another Birds of Prey, but WB would be unwise to just shelve Robbie’s version of Harley. Her performance is one of the most universally-praised aspects of the DCEU, and viewers would like to see more of her. The onus will be on the studio finding the smartest course of action moving forward. They have to find the best way of handling things down the road.

More: Birds of Prey: Every DCEU Easter Egg and Reference in the Harley Quinn Movie

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