The DC Extended Universe will be studied forever as one of the most polarizing and complicated movie universes of all time.
Every movie seems to have a director's cut that fans prefer. Tone and connectivity are about as inconstant as who Warner Bros. has making the decisions. And the sheer volume of slow motion pushes the average DCEU movie runtime to 10 minutes more than the runtime of a movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Unfortunately, for Warner Brothers Discovery, the blue brand faithful, and moviegoers around the globe, the DCEU is limping into that lap after substantial box office flops.
The rule of thumb for "success" at the box office is that a movie is considered profitable if it is able to double the amount of the production budget. This is to account for marketing, distribution, and other various costs along with making the movie.
All box office information is provided by IMDB Pro.
1.) Black Adam
Budget: $260,000,000 (Profit Goal: $520,000,000)
Worldwide Gross: $393,252,111
Profit: -$126,747,889 (-24%)
The hierarchy of power in the DC Universe was supposed to change, and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was supposed to be the man to do so. After more than five years of production, the greatest hype man of all time in the leading role, and the promise of a revitalized DCEU, Black Adam failed to meet the mark financially, critically, or influentially.
Black Adam will be mostly remembered for the post-credits cameo appearance of Henry Cavill's Superman. This scene seemed to be the majority focus of the movie and was used as marketing bait to get people in the seats. Unfortunately, DC forgot to make a competent movie around it.
2.) Shazam! Fury of the Gods
Budget: $125,000,000 (Profit Goal: $250,000,000)
Worldwide Gross: $133,783,006
Profit: -$116,216,994 (-46%)
Bringing in the biggest movie star in the world and pandering to the loudest common denominator for Black Adam did not work. In an Iron Man/The Incredible Hulk situation, DC had a built-in hedge falling back on one of its most well-received characters in Zachary Levi's Shazam. The long and short of it is that virtually no one saw Shazam! Fury of the Gods.
Promotion being a major factor once again, the trailers for Shazam! 2 largely leaned on the established pieces of the DC Extended Universe. That ended up sinking this sequel before it was able to swim. The James Gunn reboot was announced six months prior. One of the heroes referenced in the trailer was in the middle of some serious legal trouble. And Black Adam seemed to do everything it could to make people forget Shazam! ever existed.
This led to the worst box office return for the DCEU by far outside of Wonder Woman 1984 and The Suicide Squad, which were released on HBO Max the same day they were released in theaters due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
3.) The Flash
Budget: $220,000,000 (Profit Goal: $440,000,000)
Current Worldwide Gross: $210,944,000
Estimated Profit: >$400,000,000
19 years of development hell along with a leading character seemingly addicted to getting into legal trouble put this movie in a hole from the beginning. In an attempt to climb out, it added two multiversal versions of Batman, including the return of Michael Keaton in the role for the first time in over 30 years. DC even tried to raise the floor of that hole by capitalizing on the multiversal era of comic book movies and an alluded promise of this being the movie to reset this entire mess of a universe.
A "yeah, but..." mindset can point to the Ezra Miller of it all and unrealistic expectations being the cause for this cataclysmic performance. However, after canceling Batgirl in February in fear of its quality harming the DC Studios reputation, the studio lost the Ezra Miller excuse in the eyes of the audience. After some genuinely suspect pull quotes from some of the biggest names in Hollywood claiming this to be one of the greatest comic book movies ever made, the expectations were on them.
While it is not nearly as bad as its ranking in the box office performance, The Flash either needed to be special or reset everything that came before it to pull in audiences. It did neither, and it is now boasting the worst-ever 2nd-weekend box office drop in DC history.
How Bad Was the Recent DCEU Movie Streak?
"Superhero fatigue" is one of the latest buzzwords for whiz-bang fandom. The idea is that with the lost year of 2020 and the overcorrection of volume for superhero movies, people are not as interested as they once were.
Since 2022, there have been 12 superhero movies released in theaters. Black Adam, Shazam! Fury of the Gods, and The Flash will join Morbius and DC: League of Super Pets as the only movies to not cross $400 million at the global box office. In fact, those three movies will join Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quatumania as the only live-action superhero movies to fall below $700 million.
With Black Adam and The Flash owning budgets north of $200 million, the final stretch for the DCEU post-James Gunn announcement could not have gone worse. Fans feel like the trust in this franchise is worse than ever, and that is saying something.
Think about it: for all intents and purposes, The Flash was marketed as the Batman version of Spider-Man: No Way Home. To apply that to an exercise, if one were to consider The Flash a "Batman movie," it is dangerously close to becoming the worst-performing "Batman movie" since 1992's Batman Returns, which was the third highest-grossing movie that year.
What Is Next For DC Studios?
With Blue Beetle and Aquaman 2 on the horizon, Warner Bros. Discovery is in an impossible position. The projected budget for those movies is $120 million and $205 million, respectively.
Say, hypothetically, DC punts and decides not to release those movies in fear of further hurting the already broken DC Studios reputation. It would lose roughly $385 million on production for both and marketing for Blue Beetle.
If everything is released, those movies would need to gross $650 million collectively to turn a profit for the studio. Black Adam, Shazam! 2, and the highest current projections for The Flash will have gained an average of $309 million. This means that if things continue the way they are going, it would be a rough $32 million loss for Warner Bros. Discovery.
These estimated numbers raise this question: is the potential reputational damage of two more flops for DC Studios worth the -$350 million difference between not releasing the movies at all and punting to a fully rebooted DCU?
Keep in mind, this is the same studio that willingly ate roughly $90 million so that Batgirl never saw the light of day in favor of "the brand."
Superhero fatigue is real if the movies are not good. There is no reason for anyone, analyst or otherwise, to believe Blue Beetle and Aquaman 2 will do any better than the DCEU's latest.