Does The Suicide Squad Box Office Hurt Future of R-Rated Superhero Movies?

The HBO Max Factor

There are several significant factors that likely contributed to The Suicide Squad’s underperformance. The first major one is the elephant in the room which media companies would prefer go ignored: day-and-date release strategies, which cripple the box office potential of films also immediately available for streaming (and thereby piracy).

It’s barely been a week since Scarlett Johansson filed suit against Disney over an alleged contract breach by releasing Black Widow on Disney+ the same day it opened in theaters. While that PG-13 superhero movie had the biggest opening since the pandemic began with more than $80 million, Disney earned almost as much behind Disney+’s Premier Access paywall—revenue that Johansson alleged she has not seen a cut of, and which she’s claimed the company ignored overtures to discuss.

That movie had a relatively luxuriant price tag of $30 on its streaming release, and yet Black Widow’s staggering 68 percent drop in its second weekend (a relative anomaly among Marvel movies) shows the limits that streaming/piracy puts on a theatrical releases. As does the fact that despite opening domestically smaller, Universal’s F9 is on track to earn nearly double what the Disney superhero movie did. And F9 is only available in theaters.

Also unlike Black Widow, The Suicide Squad opened on a streaming service with no paywall via HBO Max. While the day-and-date model for HBO Max has had some silver linings, most notably Godzilla vs. Kong earning $31.6 million in March, back when theaters and distributors were terrified audiences would never return to cinemas, those numbers always come with an asterisk. In truth, there seems to be a relative ceiling on the HBO Max hybrid model, which might have undercut In the Heights. Despite lots of industry buzz and glowing reviews, that musical flopped when it opened at $11.5 million in June. In the same month, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It somewhat underperformed with a $24 million opening, despite the previous direct film in the franchise earning $40 million during its U.S. debut.

Honestly, it’s worth wondering if there’s a cap that HBO Max streaming releases are creating for these Warner Bros. movies. So far no other hybrid release has topped GVK, which opened at a time that many theaters were still closed, and the only one to come close is Space Jam: A New Legacy. That animated sequel premiered at $31.1 million. Perhaps that’s why HBO Max chief Andy Forssell sounded like he was whistling past the graveyard when he announced that The Suicide Squad is HBO Max’s second most viewed WB release, just behind Mortal Kombat.

“As the country faces new challenges due to the COVID variant, we’re happy to continue to offer fans the option of viewing movies in their homes,” the executive said. “Many chose to do just that as Suicide Squad emerged as the second most viewed film over an opening weekend on HBO Max since we began day-and-date releases with theaters.”

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