Deconstructing the Box Office Failure of The Suicide Squad

The Suicide Squad has become the latest box office failure in the latest surge of films released. Only a few weeks ago, we were discussing the rise of the box office. As surprisingly quick we saw box office numbers rising, we have now seen them plummet significantly over the last few weeks. The Suicide Squad was welcomed with such high praise from critics and fans alike, so what happened?

The Suicide Squad may mark the biggest box office failure in this pandemic era thus far. Let’s take a deep dive into the reasons that caused this: 

1 – The Surge of the Delta Variant

KING SHARK, DANIELA MELCHIOR as Ratcatcher 2, JOEL KINNAMAN as Colonel Rich Flag, IDRIS ELBA as Bloodsport, MARGOT ROBBIE as Harley Quinn, JOHN CENA as Peacemaker, PETER CAPALDI as Thinker, DAVID DASTMALCHIAN as Polka-Dot Man and JULIO CESAR RUIZ as Milton in Warner Bros. Pictures’ superhero action adventure “THE SUICIDE SQUAD,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

The surge of the delta variant is currently at its peak and continues to rise. There is no denying that the delta variant has impacted the box office performance of films and anyone who thinks the pandemic is no longer a major impact are flat-out incorrect. Determining the impact of the delta variant is difficult as there are other variables to consider. France and Italy require people who hold vaccine passports to be able to attend a session, this was met with a drop in cinema attendance. Los Angeles and New York have announced this requirement (yet to come into effect), could we see a similar drop? Moreso, will more states and countries institute this requirement?

2 – HBO Max Hybrid Release Model

(L-r) IDRIS ELBA as Bloodsport and KING SHARK in Warner Bros. Pictures’ superhero action adventure “THE SUICIDE SQUAD,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

The rise of the delta variant has caused more people to re-think their situation and prioritise options that will best keep themselves and loved ones safe. The HBO Max provides an outlet for those who do not wish to go into the cinemas, debuting as the second highest viewed film on the platform in its opening weekend with 2.8 million households tuning in. Availability of a $180 million budgeted blockbuster for free on a streaming platform with 47 million subscribers only sets up additional hurdles for The Suicide Squad. The Friday-to-Friday drop for The Suicide Squad this weekend is 80%, as with all other HBO Max day-and-date releases, this film is unlikely to sustain in its legs through its box office performance. The HBO Max Day-and-Date release model isn’t working and Warner Brothers knows this.

3 – Pirates

MARGOT ROBBIE as Harley Quinn in Warner Bros. Pictures’ superhero action adventure “THE SUICIDE SQUAD,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Piracy isn’t an uncommon thing, in fact, it’s extremely popular in which millions of people indulge in. When it came to these newly released big-budgeted tentpole films, the best a person could find was a blurry camera-recorded video and was never highly sought out on the internet. You HAD to go to the cinemas to view it with watchable quality, there was no other way to see it. Nowadays, the Day-and-Date Release Model has caused a surge in piracy for these newly released films as the download or streaming link contains the crisp, high-quality of the film that just opened in cinemas that day. 

4 – Poor Marketing Campaign

JOHN CENA as Peacemaker and KING SHARK in Warner Bros. Pictures’ superhero action adventure “THE SUICIDE SQUAD,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Let’s face the facts, the marketing for this film was poor. The trailers never really got many people amped up for the film and they never got the general public talking about the film. At no discredit to James Gunn, the marketing campaign aimed a lot towards his vision of the film in a way that Chirstopher Nolan’s films do. The text “From the Horrifically Beautiful Mind of James Gunn” would appear in large part throughout the theatrical trailers. I’m sorry, but James Gunn is not the household director name (yet) and his films should not depend on his involvement to bring people into the cinema. 

5 – Suicide Squad (2016)

DANIELA MELCHIOR as Ratcatcher 2 in Warner Bros. Pictures’ superhero action adventure “THE SUICIDE SQUAD,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Ah, yes. We all remember David Ayer’s (not really) Suicide Squad film that got $747 million at the worldwide box office and the reception for this film tore it apart completely. The quality of the DCEU films are improving but they also hold a certain reputation due to the rocky start of the cinematic universe. The substantially poor reception of Suicide Squad (2016) tainted the brand and provided baggage for The Suicide Squad (2021) which it had to overcome. For those heavily invested in movies and the film industry, there were plenty of reasons to be excited for this film but for general audiences, they were reliant on the marketing and the reputation of the Suicide Squad brand in order to get them into a cinema. 

6 – The R-Rating Hurdle

DAVID DASTMALCHIAN as Polka-Dot Man in Warner Bros. Pictures’ superhero action adventure “THE SUICIDE SQUAD,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

As with all films releasing, pre-pandemic or mid-pandemic, the R-Rating provides a hurdle that a film has to overcome. Particularly a comic-book film, a genre that highly appeals to children and youth, a demographic that is highly unlikely to get to see the film in the cinemas. The R-Rating boxes a studio in the nature and extent of their marketing campaign and how they want the marketing to represent the film outside the R-Rated content in the film which directly affects getting people into cinema seats. The Suicide Squad was always going to be subjected to this hurdle but it has been successful before (see Deadpool & Logan) so in-conjunction with the additional obstacles, the R-Rating didn’t do the film any favours here.

KING SHARK in Warner Bros. Pictures’ superhero action adventure “THE SUICIDE SQUAD,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

When discussing the box office performances of films released in these current times, it needs to be met with a lot of nuance as there are many different variables at play. It is highly disheartening to see Warner Brothers provide full creative freedom to James Gunn and the end result being a highly positive response to the film but a failure at the box office. Here is to hoping that Warner Brothers acknowledges and accepts the other factors that provided hurdles for this film to jump over in the box office – including and especially the HBO Max Hybrid Release model.

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