At the end of April, all indications pointed to it The flash opening to $100 million or more domestically. Then David Zaslav, CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, took the stage at CinemaCon in Las Vegas and triumphantly told theater owners that this was the best superhero picture he had ever seen.
The powerful director could easily have kept a poker face and distanced himself from it The flash considering it was made by the previous regime. Instead, Zaslav bet on it as if it were his own. That included arranging for Tom Cruise – who was still basking in the afterglow of Top gun: Maverick – to watch the movie, with his positive response all the time a talking point on the press trip. Zaslav’s newly installed DC Studios co-chief and top lieutenant James Gunn also trumpeted The flash, though he tempered his comments, saying in January that it’s “probably one of the best superhero movies ever made.” Whatever the wording, expectations skyrocketed.
But in a stunning turn, The flash, one of the most anticipated movies on the summer 2023 calendar, was a major miss at launch. The Tentpole, starring Ezra Miller in the titular role, opened to a dismal $55 million over the weekend of June 16-18, on par with previous DC bombshells. Guardians ($55.2 million) and not far from the infamous D.C. trip Green Lantern ($53.5 million), unadjusted for inflation.
“It is unfathomable to me why Zas and James Gunn promise how great every photo or new plan will be months in the future. The public does not care and is not aware of their forecasts,” says an experienced studio manager The Hollywood Reporter, noting that such predictions do not affect the share price or potential buyers. “Let the product do the talking.”
And talk The flash did, albeit not in a healthy way as it opened in movie theaters around the world. Things went from bad to worse as bad word of mouth spread.
Based on traffic on Friday, The flash was expected to earn $58 million for the three-day weekend and $70 million for the four-day Juneteenth holiday weekend, according to estimates from Saturday morning from Warners. But gross receipts were cut on Sunday morning and again on Monday after traffic slowed more than expected. On Sunday, Warners put out a four-day estimated gross of $64.2 million, including $55.7 million for the three days. The final weekend numbers released on Tuesday were even lower: $55 million for the three days and $61.2 million for the four (the three-day number is considered the official opening gross).
Observers note that while The Flash isn’t as well known as a Batman or a Wonder Woman, the character isn’t obscure. “Was it one Avengerslevel hit? Probably not, that would have been an unfair expectation, but it had a clear path to at least be what a movie likes Days of the Future Passt was before X-Men nine years ago after that franchise seemingly lost its way with confusing timelines and dwindling continuity,” says Boxoffice Pro box office analyst Shawn Robbins. “The increasingly disjointed state of DC storylines is as much to blame as other external factors, pushing the franchise to a point where a lack of consistency prevented the kind of emotional connection to most of its characters that a sprawling universe needs.”
The story took a very different turn in February when the first fanfare trailer debuted. “The flash looked like it had so much potential after the super bowl trailer. Expectations were very high. Instead, it’s more DC Comics mediocrity,” said Wall Street analyst Eric Handler. “Zaslav could have easily swept it under the carpet since he inherited it.”
Comscore’s Paul Dergarabedian is a little more forgiving, noting: “The flash unfortunately had a rocky road to the multiplex, and given the complexities and challenges of the film’s marketing and positioning in the marketplace, its first debut is actually a solid result for DC Comics’ latest in such a busy and competitive summer season. ”
The flash was hit with a B CinemaScore, which is really the equivalent of a C or worse when it comes to event photography for all audiences. Exit scores on PostTrak were also unusually poor, with only 58 percent of ticket buyers saying they would recommend the movie, and 77 percent saying it was excellent or very good. That equates to an 82 percent final recommendation score for Sony’s fellow superhero photo Spider-Man: About the Spider-Verse and 93 percent excellent/very well ranked (About the Spider-Verse opened the week before.)
The gender breakdown was also an issue. While most superhero movies and big action movies tend to be mostly male – think 62 percent or 63 percent – The flash prompted many to do a double take to make sure they read the numbers right. According to PostTrak, about 72 percent or 73 percent of ticket buyers were male.
Like audiences, critics disagreed with Zaslav and Gunn’s assessment, resulting in a lukewarm 66 percent Tomatometer score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Given Zaslav and Gunn’s confidence, many were surprised at the time The flash officially entered tracking three weeks before its debut with a disappointing $70 million forecast. They assumed that tracking services and Warner Bros. were conservative. If only that were true.
Naturally, Warners was in a difficult position when it came to the tentpole’s marketing and publicity campaign, which helped explain why Zaslav stepped in. Miller was arrested several times last year, culminating in the actor issuing a statement in August 2022 apologizing for their behavior and saying they would get help for “complex mental health issues”. Miller didn’t insist The flash in the months leading up to the photo’s release, apart from walking the red carpet at the film’s Los Angeles premiere and making brief remarks.
Box office pundits believe Miller’s woes may have put off some moviegoers, but not enough to do the kind of damage that was done. “No one would care if Miller promoted the photo; he is not a movie star and has no following,” said another source.
Oftentimes, a photo of a Hollywood event that gets into trouble at home can make up for it abroad. In this case, there are no such guarantees. The flash, which opened day and night in nearly every major market, bowed to a dampened $75 million internationally. Notes an insider close to the movie: “If a movie doesn’t work, it just doesn’t work.”
The financial strength of the film will become clearer in the second weekend.
Development on The flash spanned three regimes at Warners and figured prominently in former DC Films boss Walter Hamada’s plans for the universe. Hamada has ordered a follow-up script from Aquarius writer David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, one that would eventually lead to a titled crossover event Crisis on Infinite Earths. However, those plans were scrapped after Gunn and Peter Safran rose to the top DC posts. And while no The flash sequel was part of the duo’s immediate grand plans, announced in January, they were open to Miller returning to the role, possibly as a supporting character in other projects (that now seems less likely in the wake of The flashthe bomb). Also, the team that Zaslav put together made some changes The flashincluding a key moment at the end of the film orchestrated by Gunn and Safran.
Had The flash transformed into a blockbuster, it’s hard to imagine a sequel wouldn’t have been considered. A studio doesn’t spend hundreds of millions on a movie that doesn’t have standalone franchise potential. And Gunn and Safran may not have said too much in January, given that Miller was still dealing with their personal issues. However, Safran and Gunn adopted Flash Director Andy Muschietti is set to direct a Batman movie titled The brave and the bold. The news was revealed on the evening of June 15 Flash previews began in select movie theaters in North America. (In a joint move, Warners announced it has signed an overall TV and movie deal with the filmmaker and his producing partner, Barbara Muschietti.)
Says Robbins, “The hope now is that DC’s new regimen can provide enough of a clean slate for the uninitiated to feel comfortable jumping back into the pool.”