The Suicide Squad’s Slow Box Office Start Can’t Be Blamed on One Issue

This weekend saw James Gunn’s highly anticipated The Suicide Squad fall short of expectations at the box office with a haul of just $26.5 million — a pandemic high for an R-rated film, for what it’s worth — leaving many analysts scrambling to figure out what those results mean. Is the delta variant taking its toll? Was the marketing for the film not appealing enough for audiences? Is the DC Extended Universe brand damaged? Did the R-rating hurt its earning potential? Did its simultaneous HBO Max release hurt numbers as interested fans stayed home to watch instead?

It is likely a combination of all of the above. With the pandemic raging on, people aren’t willing to go to theaters to see a film they’re interested in, yet not heavily anticipating. The DCEU comes with plenty of baggage despite its popularity, and this wasn’t a flick for the whole family to watch.

Here’s an even more ponderous question, though: what appeal did The Suicide Squad present for casual audiences? There are no marquee heroes or villains (outside of Harley Quinn), no proven blockbuster stars, and the trailers leaned more on dick jokes and John Cena’s goofy-looking Peacemaker than Gunn’s clever humor.

Contrast this trailer to those for 2016’s Suicide Squad, which promised an edgy, dark new adventure boasting the likes of the Joker, Batman, and Harley Quinn. Even when the marketing pivoted towards comedy, David Ayer’s flick still carried plenty of draw for general audiences and families looking for wild, PG-13 adventure.

More importantly, Suicide Squad featured Will Smith, our first look at Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, a Ben Affleck cameo, and a brand new Joker (played by Jared Leto). It also served as the next chapter to the wider DCEU universe — aspects that clearly generated plenty of interest, as evidenced by the film’s $65 million opening day. It went on to gross $133.7 million over its first weekend and $325 million domestically).

Gunn’s sequel, by contrast, features Idris Elba, who has never been a box office draw, despite appearing in some of the biggest hits of the past decade, and John Cena, whose only real hit (aside from the recent F9) was 2018’s Bumblebee. Similarly, audiences don’t seem particularly drawn to Robbie’s Harley Quinn, at least not enough to vault the character into the box office stratosphere, as evidenced by Birds of Prey’s meager $200 million worldwide total last year, while the remaining cast portray obscure characters no one outside of hardcore comic book circles will recognize.

RELATED: The Five Most Shocking Deaths in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad

Now, some will argue Gunn struck it big with Guardians of the Galaxy despite similar issues. Except, that film had the indestructible Marvel brand behind it, arrived hot on the heels of The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and Captain America: Winter Soldier, led directly to Avengers: Age of Ultron, and played an integral role in establishing the MCU’s Infinity War conflict. In other words, you had to see this weird new film or risk falling behind the Marvel water cooler discussion.

Plus, the trailers were great.

The Suicide Squad arrived hot on the heels of … well, the poorly received Birds of Prey, Patty Jenkins’ disappointing Wonder Woman 1984, and Zack Snyder’s Justice League — a film WB has dismissed as non-canonical. The DCEU brand is kind of a mess.

So, while it may be fun and really well made, Gunn’s film has nothing to do with, well, anything aside from the upcoming Peacemaker television series. In this day and age of day-and-date streaming (and an ongoing pandemic), a film needs to have an enormous draw — family appeal, sequel status, or a big name like Dwayne Johnson — in order to lure audiences from the comforts of their home.

The Suicide Squad, while exceptionally well made and enormously entertaining, simply didn’t check any of the boxes necessary to result in a big box office hit in the modern age. No doubt, its popularity will grow over time, but in the future, if you’re gonna get weird and artsy in a pandemic, have Will Smith’s number on speed dial.

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