It’s pink vs. blue at the box office this weekend.
As “Barbie” continues a historic run in theaters, a little-known superhero called “Blue Beetle” is looking to take the top spot on the charts this weekend.
With $3.3 million from Thursday night previews, Warner Bros. Discovery’s latest film based on a DC Comics character is expected to take in between $22 million and $32 million during its domestic debut.
Meanwhile, Warner Bros.’ “Barbie,” which has steadily tallied $545 million domestically since its late July release, is expected to add between $17 million and $22 million during its fifth weekend.
“Blue Beetle” arrives in theaters after several DC Comics-based films have flopped at the box office and while the studio undergoes a major creative regime change.
“The four movies released this year are orphans,” said Robert Thompson, a professor at Syracuse University and a pop culture expert, referring to DC titles “Shazam! Fury of the Gods,” “The Flash,” “Blue Beetle” and the upcoming “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.”
“They’re part of the old universe that’s about to get completely rebooted. [Warner Bros.] has to promote these, they want them to be big hits, obviously, but there is a sense that they’re part of the old guard,” Thompson said.
And audiences haven’t turned out for these films so far. “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” generated just $57.6 million domestically and “The Flash” tallied a little more than $100 million in the U.S. and Canada.
These performances show an “indifference” from audiences, said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.
Will ‘Blue Beetle’ take flight or be squashed?
When “Blue Beetle” first entered development in 2018, there was potential for the character of Jaime Reyes, the man behind the moniker, to cross paths with DC’s other famed heroes. However, turnover at the studio, mostly due to the merger between Warner Media and Discovery, has put the future of the hero in question.
As superhero movies have become more popular in the cultural zeitgeist, much of the appeal of big franchises has been the interconnectability of the stories. It’s why Disney’s Marvel Studios was able to to introduce obscure comic book characters like the Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man and Moon Knight into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and turn them into fan favorites.
Blue Beetle, without the promise of interaction with Justice League veterans like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash or Aquaman, might not be able to drum up much enthusiasm at the box office.
To be sure, standalone, unconnected films have had success for DC in the recent past, but they featured well-known characters like Batman and the Joker.
“We’re in limbo now,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “In a world where superheroes aren’t really novelties anymore, that’s going to be a tough sell for a lot of people.”
Robbins said “Blue Beetle,” which features a Mexican-American family at its core, could benefit from an influx of Hispanic moviegoers in the same way that Marvel’s “Black Panther” saw Black moviegoers who were not comic book fans rush out to see the film.
Critics have raved about Xolo Mariduena’s magnetic performance as the titular character and how the film centers on a hero who is family-focused, not a lone gunslinger.
“Blue Beetle” still falls into some of the old trappings of past superhero movies, including chaotic, repetitive CGI fight sequences, but some say as DC course corrects in the next few years, it should look to keep Mariduena and Blue Beetle on its roster.
“A film like ‘Blue Beetle’ could benefit from solid word-of-mouth,” said Dergarabedian. “Judgement for the latest DC entry should come after the first three weeks, not the first three days in theaters.”
A new era on the horizon
“Blue Beetle’s” biggest battle is recouping enough at the box office to justify its $125 million budget and any additional marketing costs spent by the studio.
The figure pales in comparison to the $200 million budget of “The Flash,” which capped its theatrical run at $268.5 million globally. After marketing costs and splitting ticket receipts with theaters, the film will not break even for the studio.
Similar concerns abound for “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” which is scheduled for a December release. The sequel has a budget of around $205 million, but has gone through three separate rounds of reshoots as well as endured pandemic production costs. While many blockbusters will turn to reshoots to punch up dialogue or insert scenes to clarify beats within the film, few require this many rounds of additional photography.
Much of the film’s issues came from conflicting creative directions previous heads of the studio wanted for the the overall DC Extended Universe. And now, with James Gunn and Peter Safran at the helm, the film appears to be going through its final series of changes.
Yet, the upcoming era of Gunn and Safran doesn’t guarantee a surefire future for DC Studios, said Thompson.
“I don’t think there’s going to be this sort of miracle all of a sudden,” he said, noting that despite the pair’s pedigrees in the industry, including Gunn’s success with three Guardians of the Galaxy films for Marvel, won’t immediately erase years of hit-or-miss films from DC and the toll that took on audiences.
“That’s pretty optimistic,” Thompson said.