Is Harley Quinn & the Birds of Prey a Box Office Bomb or Will It Rebound?
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Is Birds of Prey a Box Office Bomb and Why Is the Harley Quinn Movie Underperforming?

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BY January 7, 2021

As the weekend draws to a close, Birds of Prey won the weekend, but the Harley Quinn ensemble film may still be a box office bomb. Originally prognosticators assumed the film would earn somewhere between $45 million and $55 million since its debut. Yet, in fact, the film barely squeaked past $33 million in box office receipts. This caused some to wonder if it will even break $100 million during its entire run. Banking on the star power of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, Birds of Prey could be another film that performs well but appears to be a box office bomb because of expectations. One thing going for the movie is both the critical acclaim and positive reaction it garners on social media. Good word-of-mouth could show this film has legs (no pun intended) and may have strong repeat and later-in-the-run viewings.

If Birds of Prey is a box office bomb, what does that mean for Harley Quinn and the rest of her friends? Quinn will appear in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, but it’s clear DC and Warner Bros. hoped to build a franchise. So, what are the reasons that Birds of Prey struggled this opening weekend? There are a number of theories, from plausible, the film’s R-rating, to implausible, a backlash from male fans upset at the “feminist” agenda of the movie. So, let’s examine why Harley Quinn and her Birds of Prey may bomb at the box office.

Is Birds of Prey Really a Box Office Bomb for Harley Quinn and Company?

Birds of Prey Harley Quinn Box Office Bomb Cast Featured Image by Claudette Barius via Warner Bros.

First, let’s talk about whether or not the film is actually a flop. The budget for this movie is reportedly $84 million, which means it cost less than Suicide Squad but more than Joker. It is the number one movie this weekend, and when considering international numbers, it’s already made $81 million. So, even if there happened to be a staggering drop-off in attendance this week, the film will almost certainly make its money back. Still, breaking even is not what a franchise film like this needs to do. In order to claim success in the genre, this film would need to gross more than $500 million. Especially because Joker is the first-ever billion-dollar R-rated movie, the pressure on Birds of Prey is greater than maybe it even should be.

Putting aside the straight profit race of movie-making, Birds of Prey will be a beloved film in the modern DC catalog. Suicide Squad, the film that introduced live-action Harley Quinn, grossed nearly $750 million. Yet, among the fans, it’s regarded as one of the worst comic book films of the modern DC era. Birds of Prey may go down as a box office bomb, but fans will love it for a long time, especially because of Harley Quinn.

As mentioned in our review of Birds of Prey, Harley is basically DC’s version of Deadpool. She’s not really a hero in the traditional sense, but rather she’s a villain that adheres to a morality code. (Put another way: she only kills bad guys.) Yet, like the Merc with a Mouth, Quinn and the rest of the cast are funny and fantastic to watch. Comic book fans, especially girls and women, will give Birds of Prey a long life in the culture once it disappears from screens.

Why is Birds of Prey Struggling at the Box Office?

Birds of Prey Harley Quinn Box Office Bomb Harley Roller Derby Image via Warner Bros.

Those of us who write about entertainment love to speculate about why something is the way it is. The reality is that there is no one thing responsible for how well or how poorly a film does. For example, the controversy in the run-up to Joker likely helped its box office chances more than it hurt it. So, for Birds of Prey any number of factors contributed to its poor opening weekend showing. This could be something simple. It’s the weekend after the Super Bowl, so maybe people spent their “fun money” already, our own Salomé Gonstad suggested. Still, here are the prevailing theories.

Birds of Prey Is Hurt by the R-Rating

Birds of Prey Harley Quinn Box Office Bomb Harley Quinn Behind Bars Image via Warner Bros.

The biggest prevailing theory is that this was not a comic book film that could handle an R-rating. Films like Joker, Logan, and Deadpool all exceeded expectations despite being rated R. Deadpool had the star power of Ryan Reynolds at his most Van Wilder-est in years. Logan had the gravitas of being Hugh Jackman’s final outing in a role he played for nearly 20 years. Joker was a prestige art-piece that drew in comic book movie fans and audiences who only go for serious cine-mah alike.

Birds of Prey is very clearly an ultra-violent but silly romp. For films like Suicide Squad or the Ant-Man movies, they have the advantage of being PG-13. Kids can go see this movie with or without parents. (Also, let’s not forget the sneak-in factor. If Doolittle or Jumanji: Next Level has any significant box office bump this weekend, it might be owed to Birds of Prey.)

Not Many People Know Who These Characters Are

Birds of Prey Harley Quinn Box Office Bomb Rosie Perez Mary Elizabeth Winstead Image via Warner Bros.

Another reason Joker killed it (pun intended this time) at the box office has to do with name recognition. The Joker is perhaps the most popular comic book villain ever on the big screen. Every portrayal of him has been iconic from the great (Heath Ledger) to the not-so-great (sorry, Jared Leto). The Birds of Prey as a group a very popular amongst comic book fans, but they don’t really have any major name recognition amongst casual fans. There was a Birds of Prey TV series on CW that lasted for only 13 episodes. Harley Quinn is a fairly well-known character, but she’s only appeared in live action once in a story that was as much as about the Joker as her.

Ironically, this is what many fans say they want from comic book movies. Instead of a retread of a property we’ve seen before, these are new characters in a story we’ve not seen before. Yet, the impetus to see the film on opening weekend is, therefore, not as strong. Die-hard fans will show up for the opening weekend, but casual audiences may wait to see it. Luckily Birds of Prey and Harley Quinn may avoid box office bomb status because it has no real competition in the genre until Bloodshot debuts in mid-March.

Warner Bros. Is Suddenly Really Bad at Marketing Their Movies

Birds of Prey Harley Quinn Box Office Bomb Ewan McGregor and Chris Messina Image via Warner Bros.

Of all the theories listed, the problem with marketing Birds of Prey strikes me as the biggest contributor to its underperformance. Two weeks before the film opened, tickets weren’t even yet on sale. When they did finally become available for pre-order there wasn’t any marketing push to speak of. The cast did the press rounds, from appearing on Hot Ones to traditional late-night shows. Nonetheless, the marketing for this movie did not do itself any favors. The trailers and TV spots didn’t really introduce the characters to audiences who didn’t know them already. The marketing didn’t play up the R-rating like an asset, like Deadpool did. In fact, Deadpool is arguably more well-known than Birds of Prey and in the run-up to that film Ryan Reynolds was everywhere on TV and the internet.

This is a larger problem facing Warner Bros. as a studio. A number of their big, recent films underperformed. Birds of Prey may be a box office bomb, but Harley Quinn and her friends out performed the spiritual sequel to The Shining. The Stephen King story Doctor Sleep, also starring Ewan McGregor, earned less during its entire run than Birds of Prey has its opening weekend. Godzilla: King of the Monsters, The Kitchen, and It: Chapter Two all performed well below expectations at the box office. There seems to be a disconnect from Warner Bros. marketing strategies and getting people to buy tickets for their films.

If Birds of Prey Is a Box Office Bomb, What Does That Mean For Them and Harley Quinn?

Birds of Prey Harley Quinn Box Office Bomb Margot Robbie Rosie Perez Cathy Yan Image by Claudette Barius via Warner Bros.

Unlike Marvel Studios, DC and Warner Bros. are still struggling to find a foothold in superhero cinema. They’ve had unlikely successes with films like Aquaman and Joker, but success still eludes their overall cinematic universe. Yet, even if these birds of prey go down in flames, they likely still have a future in live action. As mentioned above, Harley Quinn will return in The Suicide Squad. As for the rest of the cast, they could show up in other DC ensemble films. Also, especially if Birds of Prey earns “cult” movie status, they could return in mid-budget Warner Max movies for HBO Max. The streaming originals are designed to bring fans of certain properties to the service and things like box office performance don’t really matter.

Hopefully, lack of competition and positive word-of-mouth will bring audiences back to Birds of Prey. It is a fun movie, and first-time big budget director Cathy Yan did an impressive job behind the camera. Still, even if it doesn’t perform the way Warner Bros. executives would have liked, the film will almost certainly break even (if not turn a little profit).

What do you think? Is Birds of Prey going to be a box office bomb, and how will that affect Harley Quinn and the newcomers? Share your thoughts, theories, and reviews in the comments below.

Featured image via Warner Bros.

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Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book of superhero short stories, Tales of Adventure & Fantasy: Book One is available as an ebook or paperback from Amazon.


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