Film

‘Birds Of Prey’ Is In A Box-Office Free Fall, And Everything, Even Coronavirus, Is Being Blamed

Oh, and they're re-naming it.

Birds Of Prey flop

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Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is one hell of a title. After the Suicide Squad spin-off’s abysmal first weekend at the US box office, Warner Bros. are thinking a film by any other name would sell much better, deciding to rebrand it as the much simpler Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey.

In the US, it’s landed at US $33.3 million, well below the $50-55 goal. And internationally, the female-fronted superhero film didn’t fare much better, landing around the US $48 million mark, instead of the projected US $60-70 million. In short, the word ‘flop’ is being thrown around, as the film has had the worst-opening weekend of any of the DCEU — something that particularly stings after the incredible success of Joker (which yes, not DCEU, but still).

Incidentally, Australia turned up: it’s actually sitting in our top box office spot, raking in $4 million and surpassing expectations. Which, by reviews accounts, it deserves — while by no standards amazing, critics are overall pretty pleased with Birds Of Prey as a film, highlighting its cast and director Cathy Yan for creating an unique and fun film more in the lines of the goofy, hyper-violent Deadpool than, say, Justice League.

As a stop-gap, Warner Bros. are changing the film’s name in the US, citing both brand recognition (putting Harley’s name first) and SEO reasons, aka Search Engine Optimisation. If you were Googling ‘Harley Quinn’, your local cinema sessions might’ve not immediately popped up, since they’re the 10th and 11th words of the film’s title. It’s real blogging 101 stuff — for similar reasons, it’s why many websites bold proper nouns in their sentences, despite how it looks.

But the name points towards a larger marketing issue. As The Verge point out, Birds Of Prey‘s box office short falls are similar to flop Dark Phoenix, the X-Men instalment that didn’t directly signpost it was an X-Men film. Putting Harley Quinn’s name at the start of the film title just makes sense.

There’s also a lot of industry chatter about the film’s R-rating in the US, which cuts off the film from audiences under 17 without guardian supervision. It’s often a death knell, to the point many blockbusters will undergo last-minute edits to avoid the rating.

Deadpool is a notable exception, which ran with its R-rating in its marketing, distinguishing itself through bloody online-only trailers and an emphasis on its adult content. Birds Of Prey‘s trailers didn’t take advantage of that (and also, as an aside, were super convoluted), and instead played the middle ground by sticking to an all-ages version of an R film, diluting its appeal.

It’s disappointing, as the film’s potential failure will (and already has) been used to argue against female directed or fronted superhero films, despite the success of Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel.

Then again, maybe it’s largely Coronavirus’s fault, with Warner Bros blaming the virus on the film’s less-than-stellar result in Asian markets. It’s less ridiculous than the Daily Mail‘s headline will have you believe (“How the coronavirus destroyed Margot Robbie’s film Birds of Prey“), as Warner are citing cinemas closing across South East Asia as a precaution.

It follows the Chinese government shutting down all 70,000+ of its cinema screen, though that huge number didn’t affect Birds Of Prey, as it didn’t have a release for China yet. It’s also unclear how many cinemas that would’ve screened Birds Of Prey have closed, and, considering the film’s results across the world, we’re not sure blaming Coronavirus is exactly fair in this instance.

While the film’s name reboot might help in the US, Birds Of Prey is already being cast aside as roadkill pretending to be a vulture. At least Australia seems to be watching.