What Do The Suicide Squad Box Office Numbers Really Mean?

We analyze the opening weekend for Suicide Squad, from critical reception to box office take.

The summer is almost over, but August delivered one last big bang with Warner Bros’ Suicide Squad, directed by David Ayer (Fury), possibly one of the more daring comic book movies since Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy, which managed to defy all expectations in its own late August release back in 2014. Guardians quickly became one of the benchmarks for this similarly offbeat new movie, based on DC Comics’ team of super-villains who are sent on missions by the government. Besides the connection to the comics, Suicide Squad offered a pretty substantial ensemble cast but the biggest names involved were Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto and Viola Davis.

In the past, August has been thought of as one of the slower months of the summer, where there normally aren’t huge blockbusters. There have been plenty of surprises like Rush Hour 2 in 2001, which set a new August opening record with just $67 million. It took six years before that record was beaten by The Bourne Ultimatum with just a few million more, but Guardians of the Galaxy changed everything with its $94.3 million opening weekend. Granted, superhero movies have set a new barometer for what a movie can open to, but it’s still a surprise when movies like Straight Outta Compton or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles surpass all expectations with an August opening.

So with that in mind, let’s get back Suicide Squad. Last week, Ayer’s film was tracking to make between $130-140 million before negative reviews started pouring in, potentially hurting the movie’s chances with comic fans who had already been burnt by Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Fortunately, Warner Bros’ marketing for Suicide Squad has been spot-on and the negative reviews didn’t have much of an effect on its opening weekend, at least in terms of it setting a new August opening record by surpassing Guardians of the Galaxy’s opening weekend.

Suicide Squad grossed $133.7 million for the weekend, which is a solid start, putting it just behind the opening of Pixar’s Finding Dory earlier this summer and slightly ahead of 20th Century Fox’s Deadpool. It made $20.5 million in Thursday night previews, which contributed to its quite impressive $65.1 million opening Friday. It then quickly slipped down 41% from Friday for a weaker $38.8 million on Saturday. This signifies that most of the people who wanted to see it rushed to see it right away… or possibly, that bad word-of-mouth finally kicked in. (Not that many people have noted that Suicide Squad also represents the biggest opening weekend for Will Smith, despite him having once been one of the most reliable box office stars of the past 20 years.)

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It’s equally interesting to compare how Suicide Squad–which ranked 29% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes–with Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which ranked only slightly lower in terms of reviews. That’s compared to last year’s Fantastic Four from 20th Century Fox, which had far worse reviews than both of them (9% on Rotten Tomatoes) and ended up tanking, making less domestically in total than Suicide Squad did its opening day.

As far as those who went to see Suicide Squad despite the bad reviews, the movie scored a “B+” CinemaScore, which is also better than Batman v Superman’s “B” and also better than a lot of “bad” superhero movies like Green Lantern, Daredevil, and every Fantastic Four movie so far. (You can read a great article about what CinemaScore represents here.)  

But that’s the same grade as The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, neither of which had much in terms of legs after their opening weekends. The former ended up grossing 2.2 times its opening weekend domestically and X-Men Origins: Wolverine made even less, and those both opened at the beginning of summer where there was a lot more time to bring in moviegoers, but also more competition. If Suicide Squad makes 2.2 times its opening weekend, it’s still struggling to make $300 million domestically, a benchmark that Warner Bros would probably like to achieve. Batman v Superman ended up with $330.3 million, less than two times its opening weekend and one hopes Suicide Squad won’t suffer that badly, but we won’t know for sure until we see next weekend’s drop-off. (For further comparison, Man of Steel got an “A-“ CinemaScore while Deadpool received an “A,” which signifies that they were better received by the fans.)

The Hollywood Reporter has said that Suicide Squad needs to gross $750 million globally to break even, which may seem steep even for a movie that reportedly cost $175 million to produce, but you have to remember that the studio generally gets around 55% of the gross with theaters getting 45% (that’s in North America and there are probably different deals in other regions). There’s a good chance that Warner Bros. has spent $125 million in marketing for the movie across the globe, and 55% of $750 million is $412.5 million so they might be right.

As it happens, Suicide Squad has already matched its North American opening weekend with the same $133 million internationally, and it just opened with more big territories like Japan and China to come. Since Warner Bros.’ marketing has been good and many of the reviews may not even be seen in those territories, there’s still a really good chance it can make another $200 to 300 million internationally, although it will have to have a big impact overseas if the movie doesn’t hit the $300 million mark domestically.

Next year, Warner Bros. will be releasing two more movies based on the DC Universe: Wonder Woman arrives in June and will be its own stand-alone origin story, and Justice League, Zack Snyder’s direct follow-up to Batman v Superman opens in November. One has to wonder whether those who weren’t enamored by Snyder’s previous film or Suicide Squad are going to have a hard time convince themselves to spend money on more DCEU movies. Fortunately, both movies offered some great footage at last month’s Comic-Con International with the Wonder Woman trailer being slightly better received. There’s a good chance that by next summer, the haters will have forgotten about this year’s movies and be ready to give it a chance.

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Basically, if Suicide Squad, essentially a movie about lesser known super-villains, is able to make almost $134 million opening weekend, one has to imagine next year’s anticipated DCEU movies with more popular characters will fare even better, especially if Warner Bros. delivers even more exciting trailers in the months to come.