Box-Office Analysis: 'Suicide Squad' and the Summer of Steep Second-Week Drops

Warner Bros.
'Suicide Squad'

A number of tentpoles have suffered big second-weekend drops, whether because of bad reviews, sequelitis or general moviegoing malaise.

Suicide Squad's steep decline in its second weekend is no joke for an anxious Warner Bros., even if the anti-superhero film has already grossed more than $465 million worldwide.

In an ideal world, tentpoles should fall no more than 60 percent. But according to Sunday estimates, David Ayer's movie tumbled 67 percent to $43.8 million in its sophomore outing at the domestic box office, after debuting to a hearty $133.7 million. The decline could be closer to 68 percent once final weekend numbers are tallied.

Suicide Squad was skewered by critics — it got a Rotten Tomatoes score of just 27 percent. But it is hardly the only summer 2016 summer tentpole with weak legs, whether because of dismal reviews or general apathy among moviegoers. While Suicide Squad registered the second-biggest second-weekend decline of any summer title, the dubious distinction of the biggest second-weekend drop goes to Warcraft, an all-out flop that received a Rotten Tomatoes score of 28 percent and tumbled 70 percent after debuting to a paltry $24.2 million.

Suicide Squad's second weekend is a big blow for Warners, as it rolls out the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) in the hopes of rivaling Marvel and resurrecting the glory days of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. Earlier this year, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice fell even more, 69 percent during its second weekend. And like Suicide Squad, it also ran up against critics' catcalls and received the exact same Rotten Tomatoes score of 27 percent. 

Dawn of Justice eventually topped out at $872.7 million globally, although analysts had originally expected it to hit $1 billion. In its first 12 days in release, Suicide Squad has grossed $465.4 million worldwide, including a 10-day domestic total of $222.9 million. At that pace, analysts say Suicide Squad won't catch up with the $363 million earned by Fox's Deadpool earlier this year in North America (that movie dipped 57 percent in its second outing). And Suicide Squad may not match Marvel and Disney's Guardians of the Galaxy, which took in $333.2 million domestically after falling 55 percent in its second outing when it was released last August.

Aggregated reviews also appear to have played a role in the falloffs for movies as different as Alice Through the Looking Glass and Jason Bourne

Disney's Alice Through the Looking Glass, with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 30 percent, fell 58 percent. By comparison, 2010's Alice in Wonderland, which fared better on Rotten Tomatoes with a score of 52,  fell by just 46 percent on its second weekend.

Universal's Jason Bourne, once again starring Matt Damon, also has had to deal with second-weekend erosion during the life of the franchise. The newest outing fell 62 percent in its second frame, after debuting to $59.2 million. The last title in the franchise that starred Damon, The Bourne Ultimatum, debuted to $69.3 million in summer 2007 but fell off just 52.5 percent. The first sequel in the series, 2004's The Bourne Supremacy, dipped 54 percent, while the original 2002 The Bourne Identity declined a slim 44 percent.

Aggregated reviews seem to have contributed to the decline. Jason Bourne has a 57 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, compared to 93 percent for Bourne Ultimatum, 81 percent for Bourne Supremacy and 83 percent for Bourne Identity.

However, critics and their opinions don't entirely explain why second-weekend declines are getting bigger overall. Alarm bells first started going off two summers ago, when a handful of films were hit by even bigger drops despite strong reviews. And the way movies are marketed and consumed, altering moviegoing habits, also appear to be factors.

"Studios spend so much time and effort getting the word out for opening weekend that business plateaus and it simply cannot sustain itself in the weeks that follow," says box-office analyst Jeff Bock. "Why? Every weekend, especially in the summer, there's a new 'event' populating theaters."

Bock continues: "And the way social media marauders work these days — and not just millennials — they simply devour the offering and move on. Repeat business isn't a big part of the equation anymore."

Not even strong reviews could buoy the second weekend of Star Trek Beyond, for example. Its Rotten Tomatoes score was an upbeat 84 percent, yet it fell 58.2 percent after a $59.3 million opening. The last film, 2013's Star Trek Into Darkness, scored 86 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, but fell only 47 percent after a $70.2 million debut. And the first title in Paramount's reinvigorated franchise, 2009's Star Trek, had a fresh rating of 95 percent. It launched to $75.2 million and fell 43 percent in its second weekend.

To date, the summer's top-grossing movie domestically is Pixar and Disney's Finding Dory with $476.8 million. The pic, with a positive Rotten Tomatoes score of 94 percent, has earned $897.4 million worldwide to date, and slipped a narrow 46 percent in its second weekend.

And the season's top-grossing title worldwide is Disney and Marvel's Captain America: Civil War with a global total of $1.15 billion, including $407.5 million in North America, where its second weekend dip was 59.5 percent after a massive $179.1 million debut.

While that's a fine hold by today's standards, it doesn't compare to Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, which opened to $158 million in summer 2008 and fell 53 percent on its way to grossing $533.3 million domestically and $1 billion worldwide. The Dark Knight's Rotten Tomatoes rating is 94 percent, only a few points ahead of the 90 percent for Civil War.

Designed as event movies, the biggest tentpoles may find that their target audiences show up on weekend one, but if word-of-mouth reflects the overall critics' consensus, sustaining a hold at the box office can be challenging.

That may explain why some of the season's smaller movies have exhibited the best holds. When it comes to hanging on to an audience, STX's comedy Bad Moms may have opened to just $23.8 million, but in the second-weekend drop-off sweepstakes, it was the relative winner, declining by only 41 percent. And Warners' action comedy Central Intelligence, which opened to $35.5 million, fell by just 49 percent.

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