Over the couple of years that I’ve been writing in this space, I think I have more than established my bona fides when it comes to superhero movies. I unabashedly love them, partly due to my obsession with comic books in general (and Batman in particular), and partly because I genuinely buy into the central themes and conceits as well as the time-tested formula we often see them presented through. I have, admittedly, grown tired of the “climactic” city-destroying battle sequences that so many comic book movies have employed over the years, but when a director really nails it — as Matt Reeves and James Gunn did with The Batman and Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3, respectively — there’s nothing like it, not even if Christmas morning fell on the 4th of July.
So on Friday afternoon, when I emerged from the AMC theater at 84th Street and Broadway in New York City having just seen and loved every second of The Flash, I was in a pretty good mood. I had come into the city specifically to see the film with a good buddy of mine, and we were both bouncing out of our skin, excited about what we’d just seen and eager to talk about it.
I knew the reviews were mixed, and certainly understood why, as this kind of thing isn’t for everyone, but I also expected audiences to show up for this movie. I mean, Michael Keaton returning as Batman? Rumors of mind-blowing cameos? Tons of fancy superhero action and a story that was actually fun and not remotely predictable? This flick had it all! Of course people were going to show up… it’s The Flash! And Batman! Everything is awesome, right?
Apparently not… because they didn’t. Not really. Not like they should have, or as Warner Bros. hoped. The Flash cost more than $200 million to make and at least another $100 million to market, but it took in just $55.7 million domestically during its opening weekend for a worldwide haul of $139 million. Neither of those numbers, it should be noted, is good. At all.
The question I had to ask was, “Why?” Why didn’t they come to a movie that was this much fun, and was advertised as such? After all, other superhero movies that were not nearly as good and got even worse reviews had done far better at the box office than The Flash, so what was it that kept people from paying their hard-earned money to watch this one?
I mentioned this to an industry friend, who offered two suggestions. The first was the controversies — plural — surrounding star Ezra Miller. The second was the speculation that fans felt that, since WB had abandoned Zack Snyder‘s vision for the DC Comics cinematic characters, why shouldn’t they?
I rejected both arguments out of hand. The first for the simple reason that Miller’s presence was never a part of the movie’s publicity, and, in fact, they had pretty much stayed both out of trouble and out of sight for the past year or so. Miller’s troubles are nothing to easily dismiss; they have been accused of some serious stuff and I do not give them a pass on any of it, at least until any and all charges have been legally adjudicated. But those controversies were mostly minimized and kept out of the mainstream media in the days ahead of the movie’s release. Was it mentioned here and there? Sure, but I think most moviegoers were blissfully unaware of any crimes Miller may or may not have committed.
As to the Snyder part of it, I have pledged to no longer go after the filmmaker or his fans in this space, but I will say that the group of people in question are not the legion they believe themselves to be, and are in fact nothing more than an extremely vocal minority. Aside from the fact that they are not capable of organizing any kind of widespread boycott of a movie like this, there was nothing about it on social media that might have led anyone to believe such a thing had occurred or was occurring.
Once I stopped to think about it, I turned to Occam’s Razor, in that the most obvious answer is probably the correct one.
In this case, Occam’s Razor tells me it’s simply a case of superhero fatigue.
I mean, it had to happen at some point, right? With so many of these movies coming off the assembly lines over the past decade and a half, it was only a matter of time before fans decided they’d had enough, especially if a particular flock of such films was not terribly inspiring to the general populace in the first place.
Look at the list for 2023: Shazam! Fury of the Gods, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Guardians 3, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, The Flash, Blue Beetle, Kraven the Hunter, The Marvels, and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.
Fresh off the stunning disappointment of Black Adam ($393 million worldwide — half as much as the Guardians sequels despite starring Dwayne Johnson), which left everyone playing the blame game, Warner Bros. dropped the DC sequel Shazam! Fury of the Gods into theaters, where it grossed just $133 million worldwide. This after the first film made $367 million worldwide.
Yes, Spider-Verse has done exceptionally well in its first couple weeks of release, but it has a few things working in its favor — not only is it animated, but it’s also a Spider-Man movie, and the sequel to a well-liked film — so I don’t give its success as much weight other titles, as it was always kind of fail-proof. Guardians 3 has done solid business, with $345 million domestic and $822 million worldwide, but both those numbers are less than what Vol. 2 did, though admittedly not by much. It, too, had certain advantages — namely that it’s a trilogy-closer, Gunn’s final Marvel movie for the foreseeable future, and it beat all the other summer blockbusters to theaters, so it was well-positioned for success. Quantumania, however, was a disappointment by any definition with just $214 million domestic and $476 million worldwide, and we’ve already covered The Flash, which has every pundit playing Monday morning quarterback while everyone in the Warner Bros. locker room regroups and tries to figure out what went wrong and how to avoid making the same mistakes going forward.
I don’t know about you, but I grew up being taught that where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. Is The Flash the proverbial canary in the coal mine? Are this year’s other comic book movies doomed? Blue Beetle is interesting for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it features the first Latino superhero on the big screen, one that Gunn has confirmed will be sticking around when the new slate kicks off with Superman: Legacy in July 2025, and the first such holdover announced. That said, I can’t imagine that he or Peter Safran, his co-CEO at DC Studios, are expecting boffo numbers when it hits theaters in August. A relatively low $120 million budget helps, but it’s still a bit dicey.
Beyond that, do you think anyone is really counting down the days until Oct. 6, when they get to see Kraven in theaters? Much as I like Aaron Taylor-Johnson, even I’m not terribly worked up about that one. I’m actually more intrigued by The Marvels, due in theaters five weeks later, but I wonder how many others are like me. Not as many as Marvel maestro Kevin Feige would want, I bet.
And then there’s the Aquaman sequel, which sounds awful. You’d think that the sequel to a billion-dollar movie would be a sure thing, but I think this one has disaster written all over it, and if it wasn’t so spectacularly expensive — it’s listed as roughly $200 million, but my understanding is that it’s closing in on $300M — it would be a perfect movie to drop on Max on Christmas Day. Instead, it’s going to hit theaters then, and lord only knows what kind of reception it’s going to get. The first one did $335 million domestically and over $1.1 billion worldwide, but do we really believe the sequel is going to approach that kind of business?
That was a rhetorical question, by the way, because the answer is no, we do not.
Next year’s crop of comic book movies is a mixed bag with the R-rated Marvel movie Deadpool 3 probably being the biggest title, seeing as it reunites Ryan Reynolds and Hugh Jackman. March’s Spider-Verse finale also looms large along with a new Captain America movie featuring Harrison Ford, though Anthony Mackie will be picking up Chris Evans‘ shield. But Madame Web? El Muerto? Thunderbolts? Those feel like the JV team — mere placeholders for the big titles coming in 2025, like the aforementioned Superman reboot, The Batman Part 2, and Fantastic Four, just to name three. You want to talk big titles, well… they don’t get much bigger.
It could be that people are looking that far ahead, or — Occam’s Razor again — it could just be that they’re thinking, en masse, “Meh, enough already with the superheroes. I’m ready for something else.”
That would be a good thing, by the way. Even from someone like me, who loves them. It could be a message the studios hear and respond to by making more original fare that is not licensed or based on IP. It could actually lead to a resurgence in the kind of movies we used to love, the ones that made us fall in love with movies in the first place, and which would, in theory, bring new audiences to theaters for original stories about regular people from truly creative minds.
No, I don’t really believe that, but, then again, I didn’t really think people would get tired of superhero movies either, so make of that what you will. And if you’re still on the fence about the fatigue factor, take note that I haven’t even mentioned the numerous superhero TV shows packing the pipeline, with Marvel’s Secret Invasion debuting on Disney+ later this week, and The Penguin set to resume production when the Writers Strike concludes.
Perhaps the Flash could speed things along?
Neil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for more than 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.
You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here.