Movie and box office websites have fallen all over themselves to report the failure that is “Birds of Prey”. The Harley Quinn superhero movie only made $33 million in its opening weekend! What if I told you this assessment of its failure is inaccurate? What if I told you there was a male-driven action film with the same budget and same box office performance that came out at the same time of year? Would you be surprised that it was lauded as a box office success and got two sequels?
“BIRDS OF PREY” VS. “KINGSMAN”
Bear with me while we get into some numbers. The budget for “Birds of Prey” is variously reported as between $75 million and $97.1 million. The two most reliable box office reporting sites measure it as $82 million (The Numbers) and $84.5 million (Box Office Mojo). We’ll go with these figures, but also talk about the most expensive estimate later.
The budget for “Kingsman: The Secret Service” was $81 million. It was a male-driven, niche action movie that came out in 2014 and was widely applauded for its surprise performance.
As mentioned, the opening weekend for “Birds of Prey” was $33 million. The opening weekend for “Kingsman: The Secret Service” was $36.2 million.
Well, what about international box office, outside the U.S.? “Kingsman” earned about $53 million overseas in its opening weekend. “Birds of Prey” earned just over $48 million in its opening weekend.
It’s notable to point out that “Birds of Prey” counts its totals without a China opening. China takes an outlandish cut of box office earnings made by foreign films, which account for $22.5 million of the “Kingsman” opening and thus far $0 of the “Birds of Prey” opening. This means that in terms of earning profit, they performed pretty equally and “Birds of Prey” may have even had the better opening weekend abroad.
You have two movies that cost essentially the same, and earned essentially the same opening weekend, at essentially the same time of year. “Kingsman” was widely reported as a rousing success. “Birds of Prey” is being widely reported as an abject failure.
PERFORMANCE IN THE DCEU
But maybe we should compare “Birds of Prey” to other DC superhero franchises. At about $84 million, “Birds of Prey” has just over a third the production budget of 2013’s “Man of Steel”. It has a third the budget of “Batman v Superman”. It has less than half the budget of “Suicide Squad”. It has just over one-fourth of the budget of “Justice League”.
(Even the higher $97.1 million budget estimate reported by Screen Rant means that “Birds of Prey” would be the second least expensive DC Extended Universe movie just behind “Shazam!”)
Advertising budgets aren’t made public, but they are estimated at 1-1.5x the cost of the production budget. Advertising and production in total typically equals between 2-2.5x the production budget alone.
“Man of Steel” made $291 million domestic off a $225 million budget. A $668 million worldwide total (including domestic) means it likely eked out a profit in the theaters after advertising is accounted for…just not that much of one. It got a $250 million sequel.
“Justice League” never even matched its budget. When it came out in 2017, the $300 million film made only $229 million in the U.S. At a $657.9 million worldwide total, it likely didn’t even make up its outlandish advertising budget.
After just two weeks in release, “Birds of Prey” has made $61.7 million domestic and a $145 million worldwide total. It’s on track to make up its production budget domestically, and to more than turn a profit after advertising once international takes are added. That’s the definition of a success, and it already out-paces other DCEU films.
Of course there are DC films that have performed better: “Aquaman”, “Wonder Woman”, and “Shazam!” are the best performing films the DCEU has. The point is, there are more DC films that have performed equally or far worse.
FEBRUARY BOX OFFICE IS TERRIBLE
But “Birds of Prey” came out in February, the same month as “Black Panther”! That means something for some reason, right?
February is actually one of the worst months in terms of box office, and that’s not even talking about being a shorter month. Simply looking at weekend openings, only two films have ever opened above $100 million in February. Only 11 films have ever had an opening weekend above $50 million in February.
An opening of $33 million is directly in line with other films of this budget. Beyond that, the film had a great second weekend hold, only dropping 48.2%. In fact, it joins “Aquaman” and “Wonder Woman” as the only DCEU films not to have dropped more than 50% in their second weekends.
Why we’re suddenly pretending it’s a surprise or mystery is…well, the reason’s obvious but let’s get to that in a second.
“BIRDS OF PREY” VS. “FORD V FERRARI
As Comic Book points out, another close comparison to “Birds of Prey” is “Ford v Ferrari”, the Matt Damon-Christian Bale Oscar-bait film that opened at $31.5 million domestic. Comic Book points out that this was a $97.6 million film, just out-pacing even the highest budget estimate for “Birds of Prey”. Yet it was celebrated as a success with a lower, $31.5 million opening. With the benefit of Thanksgiving, the holiday break, New Years, and extending its Oscar run, it amassed a grand total of $117 million domestic and $224 million worldwide.
At $145 million worldwide in just two weeks, “Birds of Prey” is guaranteed to surpass the Oscar-bait racing movie. Yet despite better performance on either a slightly or significantly lesser budget, “Birds of Prey” is defined as the failure and “Ford v Ferrari” as a success.
What makes “Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn” different from similarly performing films? It’s written by, directed by, and stars women.
“Kingsman” is a movie about men that uses women as rewards. It’s co-written by Jane Goldman, but the women in the film are fetishized, need to be saved, and one is presented as an unfeeling sidekick.
Comic Book points out “Ford v Ferrari” is a film written by, directed by, and starring men. These films get a pass when they perform just like “Birds of Prey” did. They’re hailed nonetheless as successes.
That films like this would perform almost the exact same – or worse than – “Birds of Prey” and yet receive the exact opposite narrative assessing that performance is a double-standard, plain and simple.
I’d go even further and say that while progress has been made, there’s also a misogynist bridgehead that’s taking shape in criticism due to 4chan style brigading of review sites. The numbers that get reported about box office are accurate. The narratives derived from them aren’t. They’re neither based on accuracy nor consistency, and they’re too often influenced by what narrative will frenzy male followers into perceiving they’re victims of women and diversity.
As Harley Quinn reminds us, “Behind every successful man is a badass broad”. She just doesn’t get the credit for doing more with less.
Read my review for “Birds of Prey” right here.
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