Jason Momoa’s “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” topped the box office in its debut weekend, though enthusiasm from moviegoers didn’t seem to make a big splash.
Opening Weekend Numbers Fall Short
The DC superhero sequel earned a muted $26 million from 4,234 North American theaters over the weekend and $13.7 million on Christmas Day, some of the lowest domestic openings in recent years for a big-budget comic book adventure. The only saving grace: James Wan’s oceans epic is faring better overseas, where it collected $72.6 million from 75 foreign markets for an $89 million global start.
|Aquaman 2 Opening Numbers
|Domestic Christmas Day
|Global Opening Weekend
Without competition from another major studio tentpole, smaller films like director Chinonye Chukwu’s Emmett Till drama “Till” and Crunchyroll’s anime spy thriller “The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl” got a chance to shine brighter amid the quiet spell at the box office.
How “Aquaman 2” Compares to Other DCEU Films
“Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’s” splashy returns rank below previous DC superhero sequels like “The Dark Knight” ($158.4 million in 2008) and “Wonder Woman 1984” ($16.7 million in 2020), which opened during the pandemic and simultaneously on HBO Max. Like those aforementioned films, box office expectations were high considering the original “Aquaman” grossed a mighty $1.15 billion globally in 2018 with Jason Momoa becoming a household name as the trident wielding king of Atlantis. Wan returned to direct “Aquaman 2” after overseeing DC’s highest-grossing movie ever.
By pandemic benchmarks, $40 million would have been considered an impressive start for many tentpoles. But launching a $200 million-budgeted film in the years prior to COVID-19 required much more coinage in theaters to clear profitability. Sources at rival studios estimate that “Aquaman 2” will have to gross at least $800 million globally to avoid dripping red ink. However, profit margins could shift depending on ancillary revenues like syndication pacts, streaming deals and merchandising.
Why Didn’t Audiences Turn Out For “Aquaman 2”?
Critics were mixed to cold on “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” which carries a bleak 33% average on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes (the original holds a 65% average). Moviegoers seem similarly apathetic, awarding the sequel a “B+” CinemaScore. “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, in every way, feels inessential,” The Hollywood Reporter’s critic Lovia Gyarkye wrote in her review. Variety’s Peter Debruge calls the nearly two-and-half-hour underwater adventure “a big, clamorous mess of a movie.”
Other journalists speculate if superhero fatigue is keeping general audiences from embracing “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” with open arms, or if winter storms across the country impacted ticket sales.
“‘Aquaman 2’ lands with a bellyflop,” critic Brian Lowry wrote for CNN. “The movie does little to justify its existence, offering more of the same with mostly inferior results in an adventure that paddles endlessly, without going much of anywhere.”
Future of DCEU In Question
The troublesome debut for “Aquaman” casts a further pall over the future of WB’s DC Extended Universe. In 2022, Warner Bros. Discovery shook the entertainment industry by scrapping complete or partially completed films like “Batgirl” and the “Scoob!” sequel as the studio attempted to curb costs after the $43 billion merger of Warner Media and Discovery Inc.
The company has not been entirely clear about its intentions for DC characters and properties. But the new regime has appeared intent on focusing the superhero slate around more successful — though grittier — big-screen favorites like Batman, Superman, and the Suicide Squad. There has even been buzz around a potential reboot coming down the pike.
In August 2021, Warner Bros. announced they would be releasing 10 DCEU movies through 2023, though that slate now seems almost certain to change following recent corporate shifts. Films like “Shazam: Fury of the Gods!” — arriving March 17 — and “The Flash” — hitting theaters on June 23 — were already completed when newly installed Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav began reshaping the company’s release calendar and strategy. Those two films could be among the final vestiges of the so-called Snyderverse.
What Comes Next For The DCEU And Aquaman
The fate of splashy superhero adventures like James Wan’s globe-trotting “Aquaman” saga could also hang in the balance until the studio clarifies its plans for DC characters on film. However, Momoa has said he believes his Atlantis hero will live on — in some form.
“We did a trilogy,” Momoa told The Hollywood Reporter at the red carpet premiere. “I have no idea what they are doing. There could be another Aquaman movie, but I think the idea right now is to move on. I’m not sure what’s happening. I got to play that character, and I didn’t take it for granted. It’s a changing of the guard.”
That transition to a new iteration of the Aquaman character seems even more likely considering the film’s underwhelming box office performance.
If general audiences don’t come out in force for “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” over the holiday corridor, the superhero sequel needs strong word of mouth to stay afloat in its battle against Avatar’s continued dominance. Turning a profit, at least by pre-pandemic standards of success, has already become an uphill battle. Still, Momoa has said his hope is that he gets to continue playing Aquaman for years to come.
The disappointing debut for “Aquaman 2” marks another challenge for Warner Bros. Discovery’s efforts to keep swimming with its slate of DC characters while moving away from the vision initially laid out for the DCEU by Zack Snyder. Whether the film can claw its way to profitability in subsequent weeks or find an engaged enough audience over time on HBO Max remains to be seen. However, the muted launch makes clear enough that WBD has its work cut out for it when deciding where to steer DC properties in theatrical releases going forward. Superman better pack his water wings.
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