Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) continues to hold online critical and audience scores of 80% despite the film debuting to underwhelming box office numbers. Its $33 million domestic opening weekend ranks among the lowest comic book movies ever released, and is the worst since the $5.4 million opening of Jimmy Hayward’s 2010 failure Jonah Hex.
The film’s cumbersome title in particular, which is phonetically longer than an actual haiku, is partly to blame for its financial falter according to box office analyst Jeff Bock. “The first mistake is not focusing on” Margot Robbie’s returning antiheroine, he told Variety. “Not naming it Harley Quinn was a huge misfire.” That misfire was apparently so obvious that several theaters, including AMC, have now actually rebranded the movie as Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey in their marketing materials, at the request of Warner Bros.
When comparing Birds of Prey to its financially hampered predecessors, however, it’s worth keeping in mind that the film was made on a budget of about $85 million, meaning that it earned back almost 39% of production costs in its domestic opening weekend. For comparison, Green Lantern, considered by many to be a modern low point in the genre, cost $200 million to make, so its $53 million opening weekend was less than 27% of its production price tag.
The indisputably bad multi-Razzie “winner” Catwoman, meanwhile, cost $100 million to make, with its $13.7 million opening weekend representing just less than 14% of its budget, and Jonah Hex cost $47 million to make, meaning that its $5.4 million opening weekend barely recouped 11% of the money that Legendary Pictures spent to make it.
In that regard, the film’s performance isn’t quite the failure it’s being portrayed as. While it’s not particularly good even among the DCEU, it ranks ahead of Justice League, whose $93 million opening weekend represented just more than 31% of its $300 million budget, and comes in just slightly behind the franchise’s first billion-dollar earner Aquaman, whose $68 million opening weekend represented just over 42% of its $160 million budget. If Birds of Prey performs similarly to James Wan’s undersea solo pic over the long term, it could still conceivably bring in a respectable worldwide box office haul of more than $500 million.
Then again, if it performs like last year’s Shazam!, which grossed only $366 million globally despite being well received and reviewed, then Birds of Prey could see a final box office sum in the $220 million range. Cathy Yan’s effort has an advantage over David F. Sandberg’s by featuring an established, immensely-popular character, and while its R-rating may narrow its audience more than Shazam!‘s PG-13 grade did, it follows a recent string of financially lucrative R-rated comic book films, including last year’s Academy Award winning Joker, which became the first such movie to break the billion-dollar threshold.
In any case, the newly titled Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey can be seen in theaters now, while Harley is set to return in The Suicide Squad on August 6th, 2021.