Warner Bros. Suffers Record-Breaking Box Office Losses from DC Movies

By Sam Hargrave Posted:
Justice League DC

Warner Bros. has lost money at the box office on multiple DC movies in 2023, leading to record-breaking losses.

It's no secret that the DCEU has been struggling at the box office for a while, having just suffered a long streak of three box office flops in a row.

Warner Bros. is currently in the midst of releasing the final movies of the DCEU that were produced under the old regime before James Gunn and Peter Safran took over and began setting the course for the DCU reboot.

DC Faces Historically Awful Year at the Box Office

Warner Bros. has already lost money on two of DC's 2023 movies, marking the first time the DCEU has come out on a loss on multiple movies in the same year.

While most tend to focus on the box office for a movie's income, there are far more intricacies to the Hollywood business beyond just what comes from theaters.

For one, the studio doesn't even take home the entire box office gross, with about half of that total going to the movie theaters - although that is more of an approximation and varies heavily due to a number of factors.

Additionally, even beyond theaters, Warner Bros. grosses plenty from digital and physical sales, along with television and streaming deals - including an amount paid to itself to put its movies on its own streaming service, Max.

The DCEU's past movies believed to have lost money for Warner Bros. include 2017's Justice League, 2020's Wonder Woman 1984, and 2021's The Suicide Squad.

According to Forbes, Justice League lost $50 to $100 million due to its troubles with production and its disappointing box office haul.

Both Wonder Woman 1984 and The Suicide Squad took a hit from the pandemic and due to dropping simultaneously on HBO Max, with the former losing "north of $100 million," according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Shazam 2, Zachary Levi

The studio's first movie of 2023, Shazam! Fury of the Gods, proved to be a massive failure, coming out as the DCEU's lowest-grossing movie so far with a total gross of $132.19 million worldwide ($57.64 million domestic). 

On a production budget of $125 million and a marketing allowance reportedly close to the $105 million of the 2019 original movie, according to Deadline, Warner Bros. has forked out around $230 million to release the sequel.

Assuming theaters took around half of the movie's $132.19 million gross, as is standard in Hollywood, Shazam 2 ought to have lost over $164 million in theaters.

Although the exact home entertainment data isn't yet available, under $150 million seems likely as 2019's Shazam! brought in $181 million post-theatrical - via Deadline - and the sequel performed significantly worse.

So, Fury of the Gods probably only lost a small amount of money once all its income sources are factored in, maybe as low as $14 million.

The Flash

Flash, Batman

The Flash proved to be one of the biggest disasters in Hollywood history, producing a box office total of $268.53 million worldwide. What made the speedster's epic such a financial disappointment was its massive budget, which came to $200 million for production and a reported $150 million in marketing.

So, despite hopes for The Flash to be a massive hit given its returning Batmen, Multiversal event scale, and significance in the larger DC storyline, the movie appeared to lose around $215 million theatrically.

The superhero blockbuster probably brought in around $150-$200 million from home entertainment, based on having a similar performance to Toy Story spin-off Lightyear, leading to a loss upwards of $65 million.

DC On Track to Lose Plenty More Money

Blue Beetle

Blue Beetle, Xolo Maridueña

Turning attention to Blue Beetle, the franchise's latest movie currently playing in theaters, things aren't looking good for the Latino-led superhero romp, even with its low budget as it was initially conceived as an HBO Max original.

The Xolo Maridueña movie was made on just $104 million. Its lackluster marketing campaign's cost hasn't yet been revealed, but most estimate that it came in around the $50 million mark as its promotion was far smaller than other DC movies.

Blue Beetle opened at a record-low $43.4 million worldwide, including $25 million domestic, with projections pointing toward a final run of $140-$170 million.

With the studio likely to bring in around $75 million from the theatrical run, and probably around $100-$150 million from the home release, Blue Beetle may well turn a small profit of $25 to $75 million due to its below-average budget.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom

Aquaman 2 logo, Jason Momoa, Mera

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom has an expensive $205 million price tag and a marketing budget likely over $100 million, meaning it will need to make a lot of money.

The original Aquaman brought in $1.1 billion at the global box office and $275 million from home entertainment. But those numbers are a far cry away for Aquaman 2 based on DC's decline in recent years.

Although the box office will likely face much of the same troubles as DC's other recent movies, the popularity of the 2019 first movie may well help drive home entertainment sales close to the $200 million mark.

Aquaman 2 may well come out of the year as DC's highest-grossing movie, but if it follows the same pattern as the first movie, much of that would come from foreign markets, where the studio gets a much lower cut of the box office.

While it's too soon to tell how the Atlantean follow-up will perform, it's conceivable to say it will ultimately turn some profit for DC, hopefully enough to make up for the losses of 2023's biggest flops of Shazam 2 and The Flash.

DC's 2023 Movies Will Lose Warner Bros. a Lot of Money

Justice League Blue Beetle DC
Warner Bros.

A report from Variety stated, based on estimates from experts outside the studio, Warner Bros. has forked out between $1.1 and $1.2 billion for marketing and production costs for this year's four DC movies. 

Based on the worldwide box office totals of Shazam 2 and The Flash, along with the forecasts for Blue Beetle, the DCEU will have grossed $555 million this year ahead of Aquaman 2. If The Lost Kingdom were to make close to the same as The Flash, the blue brand's theatrical total could stretch to $820 million.

With half that total expected to go to the theaters, leaving Warner Bros. with just $410 million, and assuming for around $150 million in home entertainment revenue for each of the four movies, DC will have brought in around $1 billion this year.

So, unless Aquaman 2 defies expectations or home entertainment revenue makes up some of the losses, the brand could lose $100 to $200 million this year.

Can James Gunn Lead DC to a Financial Comeback?

While DC does appear set to round out 2023 on a massive loss thanks to the final movies of its current cinematic universe, the focus now turns to James Gunn and Peter Safran's new DCU, and the question of whether a reboot will be enough to bring back audiences and begin turning profits once again.

While every DCEU movie since Aquaman has certainly seen lackluster box office results, both The Batman and Joker have turned over impressive results. So, clearly, interest in the blue brand, or at least Batman's corner of it, remains intact, but the current storyline, direction, and universe has lost its audience.

Warner Bros. is reportedly internally blaming the failure of recent DCEU releases on the upcoming reboot. Based on that, it's hard not to wonder why they opted to reveal their slate of Chapter 1 projects so far in advance when there were still several expensive releases to come from the old regime.

But with over a year and a half between Aquaman 2 and the official start of the DCU with Superman: Legacy, one can only hope the time away from the connected universe will be enough for audiences to give the blue brand another chance, and hopefully keep turning out for follow-up movies.

Perhaps the combination of Joker: Folie à Deux, Superman: Legacy, and The Batman - Part II releasing in tandem from DC, provided their quality lives up to expectations, will help to restore the brand image after some disappointing recent movies.

Blue Beetle is playing in theaters now, with DC set to round out its year with Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, which hits theaters on December 20.

- In This Article: The Flash
Release Date
June 16, 2023
- About The Author: Sam Hargrave
Sam Hargrave is the Associate Editor at The Direct. He joined the team as a gaming writer in 2020 before later expanding into writing for all areas of The Direct and taking on further responsibilities such as editorial tasks and image creation.