Just because Venom, Deadpool and Joker overperformed doesn’t mean every comic book superhero movie needs to flirt with $1 billion worldwide to be a successful release.
Just because Deadpool earned $763 million worldwide on a $58 million budget (despite/because of its R-rating and cheeky tone) doesn’t mean every small-scale comic book flick has to perform likewise. While Venom was a surprise super-smash at $854 million worldwide, including $272 million in China alone, it was certainly budgeted at a level (around $90 million) to not require even 45% of that to be a hit. Ditto Warner Bros.’ Joker which earned $1.074 billion (without a penny from China) despite being an R-rated, grimdark character study with minimal action and violence. It earned 17x its $62.5 million budget, making it the most profitable (rate-of-return) comic book flick ever. However, if you’re among those on social media arguing that Shazam! was a bomb because it only earned $366 million worldwide, this post is for you.
We get into this discussion every now and then, with smaller-sized installments of successful franchises finding themselves on the defensive when they only break out a little bit compared to their predecessors. In 2013, The Wolverine was tagged as a disappointment after it “only” opened with $53 million in its domestic debut. Never mind that A) it was following a much-disliked X-Men Origins: Wolverine (which earned just $179 million domestic from an $85 million debut in 2009) and B) it had little to sell beyond the mere idea of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine/Logan in a stand-alone adventure set in Japan. But the James Mangold flick cost just $120 million to produce, and in the end it earned $132 million domestic and (partially due to being the first X-Men film to play in 3-D) $416 million worldwide.
At the time, it was the second-biggest global grosser in the X-Men franchise, between X2 ($404 million in 2003) and X-Men: The Last Stand ($459 million in 2006) at around half of the third X-Men film’s $210 million budget. Its 3.43x rate-of-return was better than X-Men Origins ($379 million on a $150 million budget). We saw this play out when Disney and Marvel’s Ant-Man opened with a low (for Marvel) $58 million in its debut weekend. Yes, that was/is the second-lowest MCU debut behind The Incredible Hulk ($55 million in 2008 sans 3-D), but it also cost $130 million to make, cheaper than any MCU movie at that time. Decent reviews, solid buzz and a general rejection of Pixels and Fantastic Four led to a leggy $181 million domestic and $519 million global finish.
That brings us to DC Films’ Shazam! The New Line/Warner Bros. film, based on a comparatively cult superhero character and starring a somewhat known but not absurdly famous Zachary Levi, was budgeted at around $90 million. That meant that the David F. Sandberg-directed action fantasy arguably had to earn figures about on par with New Line’s Conjuring Universe flick (over/under $300 million) to qualify as a success. And yes, expectations may have been set a bit high after both Deadpool movies topped $760 million worldwide on budgets of $58 million and $110 million in 2016 and 2018. Venom roaring to $214 million from an $80 million debut probably didn’t help, nor did (relatively speaking) Aquaman swimming to $335 million domestic and $1.048 billion worldwide or the rave pre-release reviews and word-of-mouth for this newest DC Films flick.
When Shazam! rode a wave of strong reviews and positive buzz to a best-case-scenario $57 million domestic debut, counting sneak previews, I too had visions of Ant-Man numbers dancing in my head. But it didn’t click in China, earning just $43.8 million (compared to $298 million for Aquaman and $154 million for Captain Marvel), and it got kneecapped in its fourth weekend by Avengers: Endgame. It’s not an exact match but think Hellboy II getting crushed in weekend two (-71%) after The Dark Knight opened with $158 million in July of 2008. But contrary to popular belief, it was legging out fine before weekend four. Shazam! fell 54% in weekend two (in line with a normal MCU movie) but then dropped a stunningly low 32% (partially thanks to Good Friday and Easter) in weekend three.
It has the ninth-smallest drop for a superhero movie (comic book or otherwise) since Robocop dropped 26% in weekend three in 33 years. It was behind only Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (+15% in 2018), Wonder Woman (-29.5% in 2017), The Matrix (-20% in 1999), Blade (whose third weekend was Labor Day in 1998), The Crow (whose third weekend was Memorial Day in 1994), Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (-28% in 1991), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (-25% in 1990) and Robocop (-26% in 1987). It was a better third-weekend hold than Batman (-36% in 1989) and Aquaman (-40% in early 2019). Alas, not only did the fourth Avengers movie open with an unthinkable $357 million domestic debut, but Shazam! had proved just popular and leggy enough to take a hit from the competition. It ended with $140 million domestic.
The film’s $365.9 million global cume was not that far off absent a blow-out run in China ($218 million) of Steven Spielberg’s $175 million Ready Player One which earned $135 million domestic and $581 million worldwide. More importantly, Shazam! (the best superhero movie of 2019) grossed 4.065x its production budget in theatrical earnings alone. That was about on par with Sony’s $90 million Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (the best superhero movie of 2018) and its $375.5 million global cume just months earlier. Of course, you still have folks arguing that the acclaimed, incredibly leggy ($190 million domestic from a $35 million debut) and Oscar-winning toon is a disappointment because it didn’t gross as much as the live-action Spidey flicks, but then that’s why I write posts like these from time to time.
Shazam! also earned, all told (so says Deadline) a profit of around $74 million when all was said and done in terms of marketing, post-theatrical and profit-participation deals. So, yes, Shazam! 2 is now slated for November 4, 2022, which is now the same date as Mission: Impossible 8 (uh oh) and just six weeks before the planned December 16, 2022 release of Aquaman 2. Both The Wolverine and Ant-Man would spawn sequels (Logan in 2017 and Ant-Man and the Wasp in 2018) which would each earn over $200 million domestic and $600 million worldwide. I can only hope that reviews, financial success, legs (up until weekend four) and post-theatrical discovery can indeed position Shazam 2 as a possible breakout sequel. Spider-Verse 2 (October 23, 2022) could be a monster breakout sequel, but that’s another conversation.
Yes, Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey, quality and reviews notwithstanding, was a genuine disappointment, earning $203 million worldwide on an $82 million budget. A follow-up would be risky since breakout sequels stem from initially profitable franchise-starters like Austin Powers ($68 million/$16.5 million). Birds of Prey had a similar rate of return to, for example, Mad Max: Fury Road ($375 million/$150 million) and both films likely missed “theatrical break-even” status by not getting a Chinese playdate. But Shazam! was an unqualified hit, earning a higher rate-of-return than (deep breath) Man of Steel ($668 million/$225 million), Batman v Superman ($873 million/$250 million), Justice League ($656 million/$300 million), Ant-Man ($519 million/$130 million) and The Wolverine ($412 million/$120 million). Just because Joker, Venom and Deadpool overperformed doesn’t make Shazam! a miss by virtue of its “good enough” global grosses.
Source: Forbes Business