Movies & TV / News

411 Box Office Report: The Flash Disappoints With $55 Million Start

June 18, 2023 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
THE FLASH Ezra Miller Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures & DC Comics

All eyes were on The Flash as it opened this weekend, and the DCEU film had a soft start despite winning the frame. The film started off with $55.1 million, well below the $70 million that it was expected to gross. Add in projections for Monday’s federal holiday and you have a $64 million four-day take. That’s an anemic start for an expensive, much-hyped film and makes the DCEU 0-2 for 2023 following Shazam: Fury of the Gods’ $30.1 million start in March.

Warner Bros. was putting a lot on this film, which essentially closes out the DCEU to pave the way for the restarted DC Universe under James Gunn. And while the films to follow certainly aren’t contingent on the success of The Flash, the pressure will be on them (as well as August’s Blue Beetle and December’s Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, , the truly last DCEU films) to deliver. Because with a low start domestically and a mediocre $75 million overseas for a $130.1 million worldwide start through Sunday, this one is gonna be a failure against a $200 million budget.

There are times when a “what went wrong?” analysis is premature, but this is not one of those times. The reasons for this are myriad; a lot of people will point at Ezra Miller’s much-discussed legal and personal issues over the past year as a problem, but that’s only the case in a roundabout way. Personal scandals rarely affect box office; they only did here because Miller was not used to promote the film and thus The Flash found itself in a strange case where it was severely underpromoted and yet also overhyped. Warner Bros. execs pumped it up as one of the greatest superheroes films ever, but the 67% Rotten Tomatoes aggregated critics score combined with a mediocre B CinemaScore (B+ is average for superhero films) and 86% RT audience rating don’t bear those out. That resulted in a sense of disappointment around the film that pervaded the conversation even before the box office came in. Add in the fact that this is considered a bit of a lame duck film with the DCEU already known to be ending, and you had a perfect storm for a weak opening.

The biggest problem here is the budget, of course. The Flash cost $200 million to produce, a number on par with some of the DCEU’s more expensive productions like Black Adam and Wonder Woman 1984. There’s not much chance right now of the film making that budget plus marketing costs back; note that the studio reportedly poured extra into the marketing to make up for Miller’s absence on the promotional tour. If the film follows the 2.5 domestic multiple that tends to be standard for the DCEU, that would put it in the $140 million range. The international grosses would need to be above $300 million for it to have any chance at profit, and that seems unlikely even with a free pass next weekend in terms of competition.

Warner Bros. wasn’t the only studio licking their wounds this weekend as Elemental came up short. The animated film grossed $29.5 million through Sunday and a projected $33.3 million through Monday, below the expected $35 million three-day start. It’s the lowest opening for a Pixar film since Toy Story took in $29.1 million in its first weekend all the way back in 1995. It’s also second ding in a row for Pixar after Lightyear came up short last year – and even that film was able to launch with $50 million, though admittedly that was on the back of its Toy Story lineage.

Pixar has perhaps been the studio that has struggled the most in the wake of the pandemic. It hasn’t had its feet under it since Toy Story 4 topped $1 billion worldwide in June of 2019. Its 2020 release Onward saw its box office returns cut short by the lockdown, and it has struggled since then. One could argue that putting two films (Soul and Turning Red) exclusively on Disney+ hurt it, but that argument doesn’t hold water when you consider how the other animation studios have returned with a vengeance when they were sending content to streaming during the same period.

The fact is that right or wrong, audiences just weren’t enthused by Elemental. The film’s 76% RT critics aggregate is fine but nothing to write home about, especially for Pixar, which resulted in a severe lack of the buzz that is Pixar’s bread and butter. The good news is that audiences who have seen it quite liked it, with an A CinemaScore (up from Lightyear’s A-) and a 91% RT audience rating.

While the word of mouth will help the film’s legs, it won’t be enough to carry it to profit. The film cost $200 million and it’s added $15 million overseas for a $44.5 million three-day worldwide run. Elemental is looking likely to land somewhere around $100 million domestically, perhaps a bit less, which won’t be enough to save the film by a long shot.

In happier box office news, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse held on well, down 50% in its third weekend to $27.8 million. The animated sequel has now grossed $280.4 million domestically and $489.4 million worldwide, making it a massive hit against a $100 million budget. Across the Spider-Verse is looking likely at this point to top $350 million domestically and perhaps higher, making Marvel and Sony very happy.

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts took at expected hit as it dropped 67% in its second weekend to $20 million. The film’s drop is the highest for a Transformers film to date, topping The Last Night (62%) and Age of Extinction (63%). Rise of the Beasts has totaled $100.6 domestically and $274.9 million worldwide against a $195 million budget. It has a long road if it wants to make it to profit at this point and should close out domestically around $145 million.

The Little Mermaid was down 50% in its fourth weekend to add $11.6 million to its coffers. The live-action adaptation is now up to $253.6 million domestically and $466 million worldwide, okay totals thus far. The film is taking aim at around $280 million-plus domestically and international numbers are holding up well enough that it shouldn’t lose money, though it won’t be a runaway hit against a $250 million budget.

The Blackening was the new release for horror fans, and it opened okay if not great. The Lionsgate horror comedy started with $6 million through Sunday and a projected $7 million through Monday. That’s on the low end of what analysts were projecting for the well-reviewed film, which has an 86% RT critics average.

The film was never going to be a huge breakout hit, but it’s looking the best out of the new wide releases due to its budget which was only $5 million. Adding to the decent prospects is a solid word of mouth at an 86% RT audience rating and a B CinemaScore. Yes, that’s the same CinemaScore as The Flash, but it’s better than average for a horror comedy which tends to (like most horror films) score in the C+ range. The Blackening should be able to top $15 million domestically and while it won’t do much internationally (it’s only slated for a UK/Ireland release in August), it should ultimately be profitable.

Guardians Of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is staying strong as it eased just 31% to gross $5 million in its sixth weekend. The MCU film has now grossed $344.4 million domestically and $820.9 million worldwide, putting it on course for $360 million-plus domestically. The budget was $250 million.

The Boogeyman continues to hold on fairly well, down 47% in its third weekend to $3.8 million. The Stephen King-adapted horror film is making up for its mild start with $32.8 million domestically and $51.4 million worldwide, looking like it might be able to make back its $35 million production budget. The final domestic gross should be north of $40 million.

The bottom dropped out of Fast X at domestic theaters, as it fell 69% in its fifth weekend to $1.6 million. The franchise entry has now garnered $142 million domestically and continues to rely on overseas money with $683.8 million worldwide. It may not make it to profit at this point as it targets around $153 million stateside and has to make up for a $300 million budget.

Closing out the top 10 was some very good news for arthouse releases as Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City had the best per-theater average in years. The quirky sci-fi romcom grossed $790,000 in just 6 theaters for a $132,211 average per screen, the best since December 2016 when La La Land opened to a $176,220 average. It has added $1.7 million overseas for a $2.5 million worldwide start.

You can always count on Anderson to bring in the moviegoers, who notched an all-time best $200,000 per theater four a four-screen start to Grand Budapest Hotel in 2014. The important key here is that Asteroid City isn’t doing the same critical buzz as that film did with a 74% RT critics average, and audiences who have seen it didn’t love it with a 52% RT audience rating. Still, this is good news for the specialty box office which is still trying to recover from the pandemic. Asteroid City goes wide next weekend, though theater count has yet to be determined, and could be a breakout sleeper hit if all plays well.

Next week will likely see The Flash repeat at #1 with no blockbusters opening against it. Aside from Asteroid City, the new wide release is Jennifer Lawrence’s R-rated comedy No Hard Feelings which should hit around $10 million to $12 million.

BOX OFFICE TOP TEN (Three-Day Domestic Numbers)
1. The Flash – $55.1 million ($55.1 million total, $130.1 million WW)
2. Elemental – $29.5 million ($29.5 million total, $44.5 million WW)
3. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse – $27.8 million ($280.4 million total, $489.4 million WW)
4. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts – $20 million ($100.6 million total, $274.9 million WW)
5. The Little Mermaid – $11.6 million ($253.6 million total, $466 million WW)
6. The Blackening – $6 million ($6 million total, $6 million WW)
7. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 – $5 million ($344.4 million total, $820.9 million WW)
8. The Boogeyman – $3.8 million ($32.8 million total, $51.4 million WW)
9. Fast X – $1.6 million ($142 million total, $683.8 million WW)
10. Asteroid City – $790,000 ($790,000 total, $2.5 million WW)