Covid notwithstanding, making a mega-budget sequel to Will Smith’s Suicide Squad without Will Smith was always a doomed proposition.
Regular readers can probably tell you about the “Tomb Raider Trap,” namely when a much-hyped and anticipated flick becomes a huge hit despite being bad-to-terrible, only for the much-superior sequel to suffer commercially because audiences decided “once bitten, twice shy.” Classic examples include Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life ($156 million worldwide versus $274 million for Tomb Raider), Addams Family Values ($48 million/$191 million), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows ($245 million/$485 million) and The Angry Birds Movie 2 ($147 million/$352 million).
Heck, I’d argue a big reason why Man of Steel 2 turned into Batman v Superman was to avoid the Tomb Raider Trap, since the swift descent ($291 million domestic from a $128 million debut) and mixed word-of-mouth surely set the stage for a commercially underwhelming follow-up. While most folks don’t think Joss Whedon’s Justice League ($658 million) is aggressively “better” than Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman ($873 million), it suffered for the sins of Dawn of Justice. And now we can add James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad to this list, as frankly I’ve been worried about for years.
Even with rave reviews and the same early August release date, The Suicide Squad opened with just $12.15 million yesterday, including $4.1 million in Thursday previews. That points to an over/under $30 million opening weekend, not only lower than Birds of Prey ($33 million from a $13 million Friday) but an outright disaster for a $185 million-budgeted flick. Yes, any discussion about any movie opening this summer needs a huge asterisk, and yes the worsening Covid infection rates among (mostly) the unvaccinated is probably why The Suicide Squad didn’t even reach “successful disappointment” levels this weekend.
David Ayer’s Suicide Squad opened on this same weekend in 2016 amid horrible reviews and revelations that the film had been recut and reassembled by skittish Warner Bros. executives (after the poor reception to Batman v Superman and the strong reception to the first jokey, song-filled Suicide Squad trailer) to an allegedly ridiculous degree. Thanks to inherent DC Films interest, cameos from Ben Affleck’s Batman and Jared Leto’s Joker, Margot Robbie’s first appearance as our first cinematic live-action Harley Quinn and Will Smith playing the central role, Suicide Squad still become an unquestionable smash hit.
Suicide Squad nabbed $25 million on Thursday, $65 million on Friday and $133 million for the weekend. Despite a 67% second-weekend drop, it would leg out as the last biggie of summer to $325 million domestic and $745 million worldwide (without China) on a $175 million budget. But critics hated it and while audiences seemed to enjoy it a little more than Batman v Superman (it was leggier that summer than even Captain America: Civil War), its reputation has not risen in the last five years. Moreover, again, making a Suicide Squad sequel without Will Smith, without Batman and the Joker and with an R-rating is a recipe for, well, here are are.
Is it possible that absent the Covid circumstances (and concurrent HBO Max availability), which are worsening compared to earlier this summer rather than improving (grim irony that circumstances got worse right as Hollywood started releasing their post-Black Widow biggies after a comparatively quiet May and June), that The Suicide Squad would have “only” dropped on par with Out of the Shadows or The Secret Life of Pets? Maybe, but that (over/under $65 million opening, $140 million domestic and $365 million worldwide) still wouldn’t have been good enough on a $185 million budget.
Fair or not, when Paramount made G.I. Joe: Retaliation for $135 million, they made sure it was cheaper than the $175 million Rise of Cobra. They also *added* to the film’s star power, bringing in Bruce Willis (back when that helped) and Dwayne Johnson as the new heroes. While the Internet may fan-cast Idris Elba in every vaguely commercial property they can think of (arguably because he’s one of the few Black actors they can name off the top of their head), and he’s very good as Bloodsport in this one, he’s not and has never been a big-budget opener.
He couldn’t open The Losers (another DC Comics flick about desperate anti-heroes on a suicide mission), he and fellow “not an opener” Matthew McConaughey couldn’t open The Dark Tower and he barely helped open Pacific Rim ($411 million worldwide, but on a $190 million budget). He’s a viable added value element in the likes of Hobbs & Shaw and has a few studio programmer successes (Obsessed, Takers and No Good Deed) to his name. Variables notwithstanding, making a mega-budget sequel to Suicide Squad without Will Smith was arguably as commercially perilous as Men in Black: International and Independence Day: Resurgence.