Before her role as Barbie, Margot Robbie faced a commercial disappointment at the box office with a superhero film that has since become a huge success on Netflix worldwide.
The Success Story of “Birds of Prey”
The film Barbie is currently dominating the cinema and is on track to become one of the biggest hits of 2023. However, before reaching these heights, actress and producer Margot Robbie experienced several critical setbacks and commercial flops, including a superhero film that stands as one of the biggest failures in the extended universe of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and company.
This film in question is the DC flop Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, directed by Cathy Yan, which has since gained massive success on Netflix worldwide.
The Box Office Results
Although not a critical failure, Birds of Prey only grossed $84 million at the US box office, which is a disappointing figure for a superhero film of its caliber. With the exception of Wonder Woman 1984, The Suicide Squad (both released simultaneously in theaters and on VOD in the US due to Covid), and Shazam 2, all other films in the DC extended universe have achieved triple-digit domestic box office results. Even the underperforming films like Black Adam ($168 million) and The Flash ($107 million) surpassed its earnings.
A broader perspective reveals that Birds of Prey barely surpassed Dark Phoenix ($65 million), and fell short of any film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), including Black Widow ($118 million), which was partially released on Disney+. Its international earnings of $121 million didn’t salvage the situation either.
In total, Birds of Prey only managed to earn a total of $205 million worldwide. According to Variety, the film was expected to earn between $250 and $300 million, with $100 million from the domestic market in order to break even. Hence, it can be classified as a failure.
In the DC extended universe, only Shazam 2 ($133 million), Wonder Woman 2 ($169 million), and The Suicide Squad ($168 million) performed worse. Even Dark Phoenix ($252 million) managed to do better thanks to its international earnings. As a consolation, the failure of Birds of Prey is still not as catastrophic as those of the reboot of The Fantastic Four ($167 million), The New Mutants ($49 million), Catwoman ($82 million), or Daredevil ($179 million).
Moreover, while the film is considered a failure, its budget (excluding marketing) of $80 million is significantly lower than MCU productions and other DCU films, all of which exceed $100 million. Birds of Prey is also cheaper than most superhero blockbusters, including X-Men: Dark Phoenix ($200 million), The Fantastic Four ($120 million), Ghost Rider ($110 million), or Logan ($97 million). This helps limit the damage.
Harley Quinn steps down from her throne
The Reasons (and the Blame)
Today, disappointments or lukewarm successes continue to pile up, such as The Suicide Squad, Black Adam, Shazam 2, and The Flash for DC, and Thor 4 and Ant-Man 3 for Marvel. However, in 2020, the genre had not yet declined to this extent. In 2018 and 2019, Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far from Home, as well as Wonder Woman and Aquaman all surpassed one billion, and even two billion dollars at the global box office, making Birds of Prey an anomaly. However, the pandemic changed everything.
Due to government restrictions and the closure of many theaters in the United States, the film stayed in the cinemas for only six weeks (compared to 16 weeks for Shazam! in 2019). Moreover, during its final week in theaters, it only earned a measly $640, joining the list of films that were abruptly taken down, such as Bloodshot or Onward. While the circumstances certainly played a part, they cannot solely explain such a decline.
Not the heist they hoped for
For example, Sonic the Hedgehog was released in the US just one week after Birds of Prey and managed to fare better, earning $319 million (including $148 million domestically after five weeks). The R-rating of Birds of Prey (restricted to viewers aged under 17 without an adult in the US) also prevented it from attracting a wider audience, as the exceptional successes of Joker and Deadpool are indeed exceptions.
Lastly, the film focuses on lesser-known heroines compared to Wonder Woman, Superman, and Batman. The nature of the project, straddling between a spin-off and a new standalone film, was also more uncertain than usual (and the change of title soon after its release surely didn’t help). Therefore, it is likely that the Birds of Prey will not reappear in this universe, or at least not for a very, very long time.