An All-female Written & Directed R-Rated Superhero Spin-off was #1 at the Box-Office! What a time to be alive!
Production Budget: $82 Million 11-Day Gross: $145 Million+
By all accounts, Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is a success. Despite some missteps in Warner Bros. marketing campaign, an unexpected mid-week title change, and ridiculously high industry expectations Birds of Prey is a success through and through!
A Win for Female Comic Book Movies
This is a female oriented R-rated action movie, with a solo female writer and a female director. #1) The audience for comic book action movies is usually primarily directed towards men. Harley Quinn as the title now leads, changes that. Though they made up half the audience according to exit polling (I took two of my brothers to see it) there wasn’t a pandering push towards men like there could have been with the Suicide Squad iteration of the character. Outfitted in skimpy hot pants and pandering male gazing butt shots. The Birds of Prey marketing strategy, confused as it may be, is a sign of both strength and progress. Even though the film would have opened higher had it pandered to men, in its own understated confident way it represents a breakthrough. A $33 Million opening for an R-rated action movie specifically targeted towards women is unprecedented. I can’t think of a female targeted action film with this kind of confidence and backing behind and in front of the camera. So anything that is over $30 Million is impressive considering it went after a previously untargeted demographic and didn’t feel it had to pander in order to be a success.
Where Comparison Suffers
Analysts can pry on about expectations, non-movie media outlets prematurely and immaturely wrote it off but the truth is many in the industry are far too close to the films they make and far away from audiences that they never have an honest idea of what to expect in terms of gross performance. Many film grosses are often under accounted for tax purposes. This film is made by the same studio that took a ridiculous swing on The Meg, a movie that cost $140 Million, looks like it cost a tenth of that, barely made its money back domestically, marketed aggressively like a horror comedy with a completely ridiculous $400 Million break-even point. All might I add all to a smashing success. I guarantee you no sane person greenlit that at that price. So Harley Quinn, like many film studios is actually conservative. Though when Warner Bros. commits to a tentpole film, they spend lavishly and commit. Like the Elites calling the New Hampshire Democratic Primary, Harley Quinn, like the fellow Brooklynite she supports is facing an different set of circumstances her predecessor did not. She achieves small “v” victory. But a victory nonetheless. I thought the $30M opening for $100M Ford v. Ferrari was under-whelming, but different strokes.
This is the lowest grossing opening for a DC Comics branded film in recent memory. That said she’s competing with a lot of heavy hitters: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman sometimes altogether. This is one of those films, similar to her boyfriend’s film Joker where the fact that it got made IS the victory. Joker is wonderfully the opposite of this film despite sharing brilliant costume design. The fairest comparison is last April’s Shazam! which opened to $53 Million last Spring despite looking terrible. It had the benefit of a PG-13 rating and gifted director in David F. Sandberg. Its predecessor Suicide Squad had a full-throated marketing budget, a prime summer release date, the star power of Will Smith, and two incredible trailers coming off the heat of Batman v. Superman. Take that all away for Harley Quinn to achieve the number it did is impressive. It just doesn’t get the credit because due to its under-stated confidence.
Beginning of the year of the Female Superhero
Birds of Prey is the first female-led and directed Superhero film of 2020 but it is certainly not the last. It is followed by Marvel’s Black Widow in May, Wonder Woman 1984 in June and The Eternals to round out the year in November. Little fleeting feminine touches like a hair tie moment represent that Harley is just having a fun time passing through. It has a guaranteed follow-up in the form of The Suicide Squad so for better and for worse this is not the last we will see of Harley Quinn and her friends the Birds of Prey.