On Shazam’s Under-Performance (Essay)

essay

This past weekend, DC’s new superhero film Shazam! premiered at the box office with overwhelmingly positive reviews. As of this moment, this movie holds a 7.8/10 on IMDb, a 72/100 on MetaCritic, a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, and a 3.7/5 on Letterboxd. That being said, it opened to $56.8 Million which was much lower than people expected. So, either the expectations we placed on the box office were too high in comparison to other superhero movies, or our expectations of how well this movie was marketed to the average audience was too high. I’ll analyze why both may be true and what this means for the future of the comicbook movie industry.

First things first, DCEU box office openings have been all over the place. The reason why we thought Shazam! would open bigger is due to the restructuring of the Warner Bros management. Of course, this is not real news to the average moviegoing audience, so the only thing that changed to them was that Aquaman was actually pretty decent…

Year Title Opening Complete
2013 Man of Steel 116.6M 668M
2016 Batman v Superman 166M 873.6M
2016 Suicide Squad 133.7M 746.8M
2017 Wonder Woman 103.3M 821.8M
2017 Justice League 93.8M 657.9M
2018 Aquaman 67.8M 1.15B
2019 Shazam 56.8M tbd

chart.png

In 2013, the DCEU started off on a strong foot with Man of Steel‘s $116M opening weekend but 2016’s Batman v Superman would mark the highest opening weekend for the franchise, and where trust was lost. Since then, the opening weekend of every single DCEU movie has been lower than the previous one. However, the worldwide box office tells a different story. Sure, opening weekends have dwindled with each successive film but for the films that did better (Wonder Woman, Aquaman) most likely succeeded because of strong word-of-mouth promotion. People saw those movies and loved them, which is why they prove to be exceptions to the trend. It’s too early to tell if Shazam! will follow the same path as Wonder Woman and Aquaman, but it would make sense if it were to do so.

However, I don’t think it will.

There are three reasons why: general audience assumptions on the individual film, it’s relation to other superhero films, and Endgame. Working our way backwards: Endgame comes out in less than three weeks. Tickets for the film went online the week Shazam! opened which meant that the online community was buzzing about Marvel whilst forgetting about DC. It’s nobody’s fault, of course, seeing as how Marvel released the ticket-hold at a normal time and DC/WB don’t really have any other time to release their movie without being eclipsed by some other Disney production. If DC were to have released their film in another month (given that they were sandwhiched between Captain Marvel and Endgame where they currently stand), then these would be the options…keep in mind that a movie would probably want the weekend before and the weekend after it relatively slow so that no competition could eat up potential box office…

  • 4/12 Hellboy, After, Little, Missing Link
  • 4/19 The Curse of La Llorana
  • 4/26 Avengers: Endgame
  • 5/3 The Intruder, Long Shot, Ugly Dolls
  • 5/10 Detective Pikachu, The Hustle
  • 5/17 John Wick Chapter 3, A Dog’s Journey
  • 5/24 Aladdin, Booksmart, Brightburn, Ad Astra
  • 5/31 Godzilla, Ma, Rocketman
  • 6/7 X-Men: Dark Phoenix, Secret Life of Pets 2
  • 6/14 Men in Black 4, Shaft
  • 6/21 Toy Story 4, Child’s Play
  • 6/28 Annabelle 3,  Yesterday
  • 7/5 Spider-Man: Far From Home
  • 7/12 21 Bridges, Crawl, Stuber
  • 7/19 The Lion King

As you can see, unless they were to wait until September, there really isn’t any other place to put their movie. Of course, moving a film away from competition doesn’t look too good for the quality of the film or the pride of the studio but Shazam! would be in a tough place no matter what. Let’s ignore competition, then. How could this movie have made so little with such great reception?

Audience assumptions.

For a moment, forget everything you know about Comic-Book movies. Maybe you start to believe reports you hear about Justice League and Avengers teaming up. Maybe you think that Thanos is also the bad guy in Green Lantern. Maybe you don’t know to which universe anybody belongs. Maybe you watch the trailer for Shazam! and think it looks fun because it’s a superhero spoof…

I believe that to the vast majority of the comic-ignorant audience, Shazam! probably didn’t look like it was part of the Justice League universe. It probably looked like a PG Deadpool with how it poked fun at the genre. Maybe it looked like a superhero movie the way Zombieland was a zombie-flick. My point is: this doesn’t look like the follow-up to Aquaman, and how could people have expected it to be? While the trailer mentions Batman, the movie doesn’t seem to be in the same universe on first glance. Even after watching the movie, it feels extremely self-contained. Sure, there are references to Batman, Superman, and Aquaman but the story itself doesn’t relate to any other DCEU films directly. From an average movie-goer’s perspective, this movie might not have even looked like a DC film at all.

If the audience perception of DC changed with Aquaman, then we would assume the trajectory to stay consistent for the following film yet Shazam! doesn’t follow that. Whether it’s because the audience didn’t think this was a DCEU movie, or thought it was more of a spoof than a real hero, or because they’re just too damn excited for April 26th to think about anything else, I don’t think this means as much as people think. Yes, it made less than it could have but what movie doesn’t? We shouldn’t call it an under-performer until the final Worldwide box office is unveiled to see where it ranks amongst the other DCEU films. Aquaman was the lowest opening weekend for the DCEU but ended up grossing more than all of the other films including Justice League. Shazam! has a lot of work to do since nobody is familiar with the character but it’s a good enough movie that it should make a lot at the box office.

The last note I’d like to make is that Shazam! actually did better than the estimates of $40-45M, which is great. Granted, a 25% improvement on estimates being that low for a new superhero movie doesn’t exactly scream “Yahtzee!” but it does say a few things. Box office tracking predictors took into account the unknown character, audience’s ignorance on DCEU-connections, and being surrounded by Captain Marvel, Hellboy, and Endgame, and it looking like a superhero film cut from a different cloth to land at around a $45M prediction but a prediction that was less than 33% of what Captain Marvel made (another unknown hero) raises my eyebrows. How does this film under-perform whilst Captain Marvel‘s over-performs so highly? The argument instantly comes back to Marvel vs DC and I suppose that DC has more trust to gain back than they did with Aquaman. We’ll have to see how this plays out over the next few months to come to any real conclusions, though.

Finally, studios are trusting directors to being their visions to life with movies like Shazam! but they need more money for studios to keep having the guts to trust visionaries. You owe it to yourself to see this movie in theaters as I really enjoyed it and I think you will to. Still be excited for April 26th but entertain yourself in the meantime with a good flick like Shazam!

As always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon!

-Blake

Published by Blake Carson Schwarz

Indiana University graduate in Media and Creative Writing. I love to write my own stories as well as experience the work of others. On this site, I post reviews, essays, and other fun posts that I hope you have as much fun reading and I have writing. Please share any comments you have, I'd be happy to hear what you think! *Never a critic, always a fan*

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