Here we are, three movies into Warner Bros’ superhero shared universe featuring characters from DC Comics. Remember when Man of Steel was controversial? It now looks like the one everyone liked. The online movie journalistic community seem to have set the DC movies in the crosshairs and are taking their shots. Suicide Squad, as of this writing, is 10 days into its release, and despite how many outlets are framing its financial situation, it has had an incredible ride to begin its journey at the box office, and much of that is owed to a terrific marketing campaign.
The DC Extended Universe three films in is leaps and bounds above where the Marvel Cinematic Universe was three films in. Marvel films accumulated $1,47.5 million three movies in and stumbled to reach the $500 million mark until the damn broke open when Avengers (the sixth movie in the MCU) broke the now watermark billion-dollar mark. It is no coincidence that Avengers was the first movie to make the mark. Yes, it had all the superheroes Marvel had showcased in one movie, but that alone would not be enough to get that many people to log into Fandango in the late spring of 2012, as Thor, Captain America: First Avenger, and The Incredible Hulk struggled at the worldwide box office and received mostly lukewarm reviews, and Iron Man 2, considered by some to be one of Marvel’s weakest entries, was the only film to surpass $600 million. So what changed? Avengers was the first Marvel film to be produced under Disney’s Buena Vista banner. Disney is far and away the strongest and most aggressive studio at marketing films.
Disney is historically manipulative to how films are advertised inside movie theaters. Disney is extraordinarily hands-on when it comes to trailer placement before films, poster placement inside theaters, and remain hands-on with what screens are showing their movies well into the film’s box office run. On top of that, they own both ABC and ESPN and use those spaces for TV spots aggressively and liberally. The trailers themselves are cinematic memes that follow a simple formula (dramatic landscape, character beat, action beat, humorous button) and create positivity to fans of their movies and characters. It’s familiar, and familiar is what folks respond to in marketing.
Warner Bros. have struggled, by and large, to market their movies. The marketing for Man of Steel was pedestrian, with TV spots and sponsored YouTube bumpers heating up within the final weeks leading up to release. Man of Steel did well at the box office, ending its time with $668 million. Batman v Superman’s marketing had an identity crisis. Where the first two trailers focused on the characters in what would be a philosophical approach to these icons of comic books, but the third trailer attempted to copy the Disney-Marvel formula, and in turn, marketed the movie as something it was not. Although Batman v Superman, in some ways, recovered, the third trailer in many ways revived the negative narrative surrounding the film the echoed through the critical assessment (not all of the negative reaction was because of the echoed negative narrative, but it certainly doesn’t help) and the film was perceived to have stumbled towards $872.7 million.
The marketing for Suicide Squad was a different animal. Not counting the Comic Con sneak-peek, the actual trailers, TV spots, posters, and all other marketing material carried a tone of a gritty, dirty, sexy, and grimy comic book movie about this group of villains trying to save the world. The marketing, to the best of its ability, sold the movie that was being put together by David Ayer and Warner Bros. (yes, I know about the editing controversy involving this movie, but that goes into the echoed negative narrative I mentioned earlier. The problems Suicide Squad faced in post-production was only news worthy because the movie was receiving a negative critical reaction. But any critical minded person who has ever bothered to study the behind the scenes elements of editing a movie would know that that kind of drama is not exclusive to Suicide Squad. Check out the documentaries on the extended editions of Lord of the Rings, if you don’t believe me). Whether or not people liked what the marketing sold in the end is a different story, but the consistency is hopefully a sign of good things to come.
Wonder Woman has a chance to be a new beginning for DC on film. A great first trailer is a great start. And yes, there will be a negative narrative hanging around this movie, and I would not be entirely surprised if that does not impact the critical reaction in some way. But just because some random person on the internet says that there is big trouble in little Themyscira, does not mean that it is time to panic. If the brothers Warner want to turn public opinion back in their favor, a steady and consistent hand in marketing Wonder Woman and then Justice League next year will be crucial. Until then, let’s all go back and watch Suicide Squad again and keep waving the flag for the movies we love.
All box office data taken from BoxOfficeMojo.com