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The Covid Delta Variant Isn't the Only Reason ‘The Suicide Squad' Underperformed at the Box Office

Warner Bros.
  • "The Suicide Squad" fell short of theatrical expectations over its opening weekend, garnering $26.5 million domestically. Expectations were set at around $35 million.
  • While many were quick to blame the Covid delta variant, it's not the only factor in the Warner Bros. film's paltry performance.
  • The superhero flick had a hybrid release, has an "R" rating and is a sequel to a movie that was generally disliked by audiences.

Those looking to "The Suicide Squad" as a barometer for the box office should look elsewhere.

The Warner Bros. film, which follows a group of DC villains as they embark on a dangerous and deadly mission for the U.S. government, fell short of theatrical expectations over its opening weekend. It garnered $26.5 million at the domestic box office. Expectations were set at around $35 million.

The United States is averaging more than 100,000 new Covid-19 cases a day for the first time since February, as the highly contagious delta variant sparking a resurgence. While it's easy to blame the virus, it is likely not the sole factor behind "The Suicide Squad's" paltry performance.

"It's the 'dog ate my homework' excuse to solely blame the delta variant," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. "There is no one single factor that caused these results."

"The Suicide Squad" was released on HBO Max the same day the film hit theaters at no extra cost to those who already had a subscription. Although it's likely that some potential moviegoers opted to watch on the streaming platform because of coronavirus fears, it is equally likely that a large portion viewed it on the service because it was free and because the previous "Suicide Squad" was not well received.

"When it comes to the box office and audience retention, sequels pay for the sins of their predecessors," said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice.com. "That was a basic tenet of franchises before the pandemic, it's true now, and it'll still be true after the pandemic."

James Gunn's stand-alone sequel earned higher marks from critics than David Ayer's did five years ago, but the film may have suffered from having a title that was one word away from the first.

There's also the film's "R" rating, which would have kept a portion of younger viewers away from theaters. These audiences would be able to watch the film on HBO Max without parental consent. The first film was rated PG-13.

The film collected around $4 million during Thursday's previews, bringing Friday's total, which includes both days, to around $12 million. Saturday and Sunday together added $14 million in ticket sales. With another $45.7 million rung up in international markets, "The Suicide Squad" has tallied $72.2 million in global sales.

With a budget of $185 million, much higher than other R-rated superhero flicks like "Logan," "Deadpool," "Deadpool 2" and "Joker," "The Suicide Squad" was always going to need a strong box office to be profitable.

Ayer's 2016 film had the allure of Will Smith as Deadshot, a Ben Affleck Batman cameo and Jared Leto taking on the role of the Joker, Robbins said.

The premise of the film was also fresh. Audiences were eager to see how a group of imprisoned comic book villains would react to being conscripted by the U.S. government to partake in suicide missions.

With the sequel, Gunn's film brought back Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn as well as Viola Davis as Amanda Waller and Joel Kinnaman as Rick Flag, but the rest of the surviving cast from the first film is notably absent. Top-billed replacements included Idris Elba, John Cena and Sylvester Stallone, who lent his voice to a computer-generated humanoid shark.

The story is more concise than the first, but because it is a stand-alone feature, with no clear ties to the rest of the DC Extended Universe of films, there's less urgency to see it opening weekend. The only tie to future projects is the character of Peacemaker, played by Cena, who will have his own spinoff show. Fans of DC likely tuned in to see which characters would survive the film, as it was teased that few would.

"The bottom line is that while just a few weeks ago it was arguably the experience of going to the movie theater that drove patrons, over time it's the quality of the movies that is increasingly becoming the focus," said Dergarabedian. "Especially, when moviegoers are given the option to watch at home."

Warner Bros. will continue with its hybrid strategy throughout the rest of this year, while Disney will shift its release strategy back to exclusive theatrical releases starting with "Free Guy" this Friday.

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