The One Thing the Media Overlooks Regarding the ‘Birds of Prey’ Flop

Birds of Prey was an unmitigated disaster at the box office this past weekend. If you look at the bright side, the fact is that Birds of Prey’s debut technically isn’t the lowest DC opening of all-time for Warner Bros., that honor belongs to Josh Brolin’s Jonah Hex with less than six million. While the critics and audiences that did attend screenings have been kind to the film (if you trust Rotten Tomatoes), the fact is that the movie is struggling to find an audience and is tanking at the cineplex. The Suicide Squad spin-off had an opening severely below market projections with only $33.2 million stateside and with $48 million from 78 offshore territories, its total take was $81.2 million globally. Most of the follow-up reporting seems to be how perplexed journalists are over why the movie did so poorly after getting so many favorable reviews and a barrage of overblown box office predictions. 

 

Take this review for instance, by a woman who clearly didn’t see Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel in the theaters.

 

Now let’s brief review what the mainstream press was telling moviegoers in the weeks leading up to the film’s release. Is this what’s commonly referred to as gaslighting?

 

 

 

Today, those very same members of the mainstream entertainment press are scratching their heads trying to come up with as many reasonable excuses as they can to explain why this somewhat less than average movie that they’ve been fully praising is simply not connecting with fans and certainly not making the bank they were certain it would make.

 

The reasons should be obvious why it failed to reach an audience. If you want a clue, be sure to pay attention to the screen caps that I will distribute throughout this op-ed. and ‘yes’, they’re all real…

 

Before the weekend was up, The Wrap and many others were quickly making excuses for it excuses for it:

 

The Warner Brothers/DC film Birds of Prey “is proving not to be the February box office success industry observers had hoped,” according to The Wrap:After grossing $13 million on Friday from 4,236 screens, the film is now estimated to earn an opening weekend of $34 million, which would be the lowest start for a DC Comics adaptation since the $5.3 million opening of the box office bomb Jonah Hex in 2010. Heading into the weekend, trackers had been projecting an opening weekend of $55 million while Warner Bros. was more conservative with a $45 million start… Reports on the budget for “Birds of Prey” have varied but have tended to be around $85-95 million.

“Oof. That’s not what was wanted or expected,” writes Cinema Blend.First of all, the title probably didn’t help. Second, Birds of Prey is rated R. Suicide Squad, which gave Margot Robbie’s Harley her big showcase, was rated PG-13. As Deadline noted, a lot of young Harley fans — who loved the animated series and Suicide Squad — may have been shut out by that rating…

People are also comparing Birds of Prey to Deadpool, which opened to $132,434,639 in February 2016. It may seem like apples to oranges, but they are both R-rated comic book movies opening in February. At one point in the film, Harley Quinn asks herself what she could’ve done to offend Ewan McGregor’s narcissistic character — with one possible reason appearing for a split-second on the screen: “Voted for Bernie.

“We just snuck it in there,” director Cathy Yan told the Washington Post.

 

Hilarious… the thing is that NONE of these reasons occurred to them before the film was released. They just kept disenfranchising the comic book movie fandom with article after article with Slay Queen!!!

 

 

 

One of our favorite presstitutes is Scott Mendelson at Forbes. Scott assembled no less than eight reasons why he believes the movie laid an egg, but nearly every excuse is quite easy to refute. So here is Scott’s full list of of excuses below in BOLD, along with my refutations just beneath. Let’s see ifWarner Bros. ignores them all:

 

1) Maybe Warner Bros. have waited a week to release it

Shifting the release date a week wouldn’t have made any difference. Most moviegoers don’t care when something is released. If they’re compelled to see it, they’ll find a way.

 

2) Warner Bros. should have titled it Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey.

Maybe, but anyone who is in the target demo clearly knew this was a Harley-centric film. What might have been more effective was if they had left the fake Birds of Prey out of the film altogether.

 

 

 

3) It was a loose sequel to Suicide Squad without Batman, Joker or Will Smith.

Another maybe. The JOKER film did exceptionally well, in spite of poor reviews, but Will Smith isn’t exactly box office gold, as Gemini Man and Winter’s Tale have proven. The premise and the marketing are a much bigger factor in these kinds of movies, much more so that the actor and the schedule.

 

 

The media treatments of Joker and Birds of Prey were starkly different. Joker went on to win two Oscars and earned over a billion dollars. Maybe it had something to do with the marketing…?

 

 

4) One marquee character, no marquee movie stars.

Not even close. Ewan McGregor and Margot Robbie should have easily been able to match another little Ryan Reynolds movie with a similar premise released in February.

 

 

5) Online excitement doesn’t equal mainstream interest.

You’ve got this one right, Scott. This is especially true in a world where “online excitement” can be sponsored and bought.

 

 

6) Bad Boys For Life stole is thunder.

Nice try Scott, but not even close. Bad Boys For Life has been out for 3 weeks and it isn’t even targeted to the same audience. 

 

 

7) The R-rating left kids (and parents with kids) out in the cold.

R-ratings didn’t hurt Joker, Deadpool, or Logan. Besides, DC has been aiming for R-rated Harley Quinn for quite a while now, or did you miss her brand new hard-R animated series?

 

HARLEY QUINN Trailer 3 English (2019) Red Band!

Quick! Someone share this trailer with Scott Mendelson!

 

8) The R-rating made it less unique in the marketplace.

I’m tempted to ignore and not bother with this. If this is truly the case, what can we blame the failure of Jonah Hex on…?

 

Let me explain.

 

The problem with all of Scott’s reasoning, and generally the rest of the industry’s mainstream entertainment press, is that they continue to completely ignore that this film implemented (early and often) a marketing technique that’s become known as “woke marketing,” wherein the studio ‘virtue signals’ to a narrow segment of the population that they feel good about appealing to. Usually this takes the form of an alleged “marginalized group”(women, LGBTQ, people of color, etc) and then members of this press feel confident in allying with that group and frequently attacking that marginalized demo’s perceived foe. The obvious problem with this technique is, especially when it comes to comic book superhero fare, that their perceived “foe” is the very group that tends to invest the most in this genre, and strangely they keep getting unfairly targeted as the “problem”.

 

 

Frankly this box office was Warner Bros. box office to lose.  No other new releases of merit opened this past weekend. Harley Quinn is arguably the second most popular villain in DC Comics’ library, right after the Joker. And straight men (the target demo for comic book films) have adored the sexy, lovable psycho for over a quarter century, ever since she first appeared in Batman: The Animated Series way back in September 1992

 

Could it be that the overt, hard-feminist approach for this movie (particularly its marketing), which insulted men, repeatedly proclaimed it was a film battling toxic masculinity, and that they didn’t need men to see this movie have any effect on the product as well as the response to it? 

 

Of course it did. It doesn’t FULLY explain the failure, but I think it is significant and the media and Warner Bros. ignore it at their own peril.

 

 

 

Armond White said it best in his recent review of the film: 

 

Comic Book villainess-heroine Harley Quinn, who struts through Gotham City as a recombinant killer-thief-cheerleader-hooker, is back on screen with a new pimp — and it’s a woman, Cathy Yan, directing Birds of Prey: And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.

In this new film, Yan uses Quinn’s origin story for a #MeToo vehicle, negating the male-female romance that moved Suicide Squad to almost-greatness, and substitutes sinister sisterhood. Yan gives Quinn a band of female misandrist miscreants: Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Cassandra (Ella Jay Basco), Shallow (Sara Montez), The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), plus adversary Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), who all hate on men during a generic quest after a stolen diamond.

When comic-book movies become blatantly political, the genre loses its claim to popular appeal. If Greta Gerwig’s Little Women represents a traditional prestige feminist film — next to Birds of Prey’s shamelessly trashy female activism — the film industry’s feminist brigade had better question its priorities.

 

 

The film, both in its marketing, press junkets, and in its product, sanctimoniously encouraged audiences to accept female hostility, irrationality, and moodiness. But aside from that, it also suggested that women have to unite against men who represent the dreaded patriarchy. Birds of Prey turns out to practically be a PMS comic-book film vs. Toxic Masculinity. If easily sold superhero movie fans and shill critics find this kind of fare interest, then they will be dumbfounded while this movie follows all the previous feminist film disasters we’ve seen tank (Charlie’s Angels, Hustlers, Terminator: Dark Fate, etc).

 

 

Let me say that Harley Quinn herself is not a bad character, she’s an interesting archtype, a fascinating villain, and her history is long and notable. And much like Deadpool, she’s not a role model. Not even a feminist role model, or at least she shouldn’t be. And Deadpool shouldn’t be a masculine role model either. I don’t think romanticizing serious mental health issues is cute. So at the end of the day, Harley is the exact opposite of a role model and this movie doesn’t change that. But the demo that has always shown more interest in this character has been straight males. In fact, men are more drawn to her comics than Wonder Woman. On the other hand, generally women have never been big fans of the character. It seems like producers of Birds of Prey have decided to try and reverse that, but they dismissed the largest segment of the population that would have made this movie a success, red-blooded, heterosexual males.

 

 

How do people think people will respond when you tell them something isn’t for them? A relative few will lean-in hard to prove that it is, in fact, “for them,” but most just throw up their hands and walk away. That’s clearly what’s happened with Birds of Prey and that’s a shame for Warner Bros. and DC, especially after films like Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Shazam!, and Joker. Perhaps they will learn something from this…

 

…but I doubt it.

 
Chris Braly

Chris Braly

I'm a collector, a speculator, and one opinionated, based geek. My friends call me Braly, but those who know me within the hobby generally refer to me as Bralinator. I can be heard monthly on the Comic Book Page Previews Spotlight podcast with several other comic book nerds. Follow me on Twitter @ChrisBraly

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