Now that it has had two underwhelming weekends at the box office and stands to be the first DC Extended Universe film to actually lose Warner Bros. money, it’s time to do an autopsy. So, how exactly did Justice League go wrong?
The obvious first point is that its two main prequels, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice were polarizing at best, with their grimmer versions of the title characters not appealing to many fans. Some certainly did enjoy them, but they are a minority, while a huge tentpole film with a $300 million budget needs to be as accessible as possible. Wonder Woman has proven popular, but apparently could not overcome the weight of the previous movies’ lackluster reception, while Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg were unknown entities to most fans.
The marketing did not help in that regard. Though Justice League is clearly trying to correct some of the perceived problems of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, utilizing a more cheerful, hopeful tone (sometimes a bit jarringly so), the trailers for the two films are largely similar. Compare to Suicide Squad, which went out of its way to show the film being colorful and fun.
Another issue is just bad timing. Justice League was released barely two weeks after the very successful (and advertised as fun) Thor: Ragnarok, and with Star Wars:
The Last Jedi coming out a month later its long-term success is placed in doubt. And other films are not the only competition—coming out the same day were the video game Star Wars: Battlefront II and the Netflix Original Series The Punisher, part of the more successful Marvel Cinematic Universe. Though it was easily the box office victor of its opening weekend, Justice League had a lot of other products working against its success.
With all of this, plus the film’s own bloated budget (becoming the third most expensive film of all time after its many costly reshoots), it is not surprising that Justice League did worse than fans and Warner Bros. were hoping. Perhaps moving forward, their strategy of focusing on smaller, solo films will work to their advantage, with Aquaman and Shazam already getting decent buzz.