‘Justice’ is test of heroes
Warner Bros. has shown what it can do with heavy hitters of superhero lore: Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. With the release of its latest DC Comics movie, “Justice League,” the studio will find out how much audiences want to see the lesser-known characters.
The mega-budget film — which showcases Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash alongside their more-famous colleagues — is expected to dominate the box office this weekend. It also marks a major test of Warner Bros.’ plans to turn the venerable DC comic book franchise into an interconnected universe of movies to compete with Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios. Time Warner Inc.-owned Warner Bros. is hoping the film will get fans excited about upcoming projects based on the more obscure characters.
“The biggest takeaway from the movie will probably be how people react to Aquaman and the Flash,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “If they can spin off successful films from those characters, that might be the most important thing for the studio.”
All signs point to a strong debut for “Justice League.” Opening Thursday night, the film is expected to gross about $110 million in the United States and Canada through Sunday, according to people who have reviewed pre-release audience surveys. Presales are outpacing those for “Wonder Woman,” which opened with $103 million in June, according to ticket merchant Fandango.
Still, a $110-million launch for “Justice League” would be considerably lower than the debut of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” in March 2016. That earlier film, which starred Ben Affleck as Batman, Henry Cavill as Superman and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, ended up with a massive global haul of $873 million, but was met with stinging reviews and negative sentiment from some fans of the comic book characters.
Warner Bros. declined to give a budget for “Justice League,” but people close to the project estimated it cost about $300 million to make, plus marketing spending.
One major factor is the response from critics. Reviews were embargoed until 11:50 p.m. Tuesday, less than two days before the film hits theaters. Positive reviews helped propel “Wonder Woman” to more than $820 million in global ticket sales. Other recent DC movies, “Batman v Superman” and “Suicide Squad,” were both commercially successful but would have done better if they had received more favorable notices, analysts said.
“Justice League” is the DC universe’s closest equivalent of Marvel’s “Avengers” series, which has grossed nearly $3 billion from two movies. “Justice League” should benefit from the return of Gadot’s Wonder Woman, whom many critics credited with introducing some much-needed hope and levity to the DC universe. Batman and Superman, meanwhile, remain among the best-known superhero characters to ever grace movie screens.
The film’s journey to theaters was not an easy one. Director Zack Snyder stepped back from the project after the death of his daughter in March. Joss Whedon, who wrote and directed the “Avengers” movies for Marvel and is known for his light touch with superhero fare, took over for weeks of reshoots.
“[Warner Bros. has] been building to this for a few years now, so it’s obviously very important to them,” Robbins said.
After “Justice League,” the next live-action DC film for Warner Bros. is “Aquaman,” starring Jason Momoa. It is due in December 2018.
Two smaller wide-release movies will try to attract moviegoers uninterested in the superhero mashup. The new animated Nativity movie “The Star,” the latest faith-based effort from Sony Pictures’ Affirm label, is expected to open with $7 million. The cartoon, about a young donkey’s role in the first Christmas, cost about $20 million to make.
Meanwhile, Lionsgate’s “Wonder,” about a fifthgrade boy trying to cope with a facial deformity, is expected to open with $9 million in ticket sales, according to analysts.
“JUSTICE LEAGUE,” opening Thursday night, will give Warner Bros. an idea of the appeal of some lesserknown DC Comics heroes, including Aquaman and the Flash. Above is a scene with Jeremy Irons.