'Justice League' Box Office: Another Setback for DC's Superhero Universe

The big-budget film posted the lowest domestic opening of any DC superhero pic since 'Green Lantern' in 2011, and the lowest for the DC Extended Universe.

In most cases, a box-office debut approaching $100 million in North America would be cause for celebration.

But at Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment, no one was popping open the champagne to toast Justice League, the big-budget superhero mashup that opened domestically to a sobering $94 million over the weekend after once having grand ambitions of matching rival Marvel's The Avengers series.

Justice League  — assembling Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg together for the first time on the big screen — marks the lowest North American opening of the five titles in the DC Extended Universe and is a major setback following the breakout success of this summer's critical hit, Wonder Woman. And it's the lowest domestic launch of any DC superhero movie since the ill-fated Green Lantern in 2011 ($53.2 million).

The biggest sign that Justice League was in trouble was when Zack Snyder turned over directing duties to Avengers helmer Joss Whedon in order to deal with a family tragedy, according to insiders. Whedon, who penned the Justice League script with Chris Terrio, oversaw extensive reshoots that resulted in the final production budget coming in between $250 million and $300 million.

The DCEU series kicked off in 2013 with Man of Steel's $116.6 million domestic debut, followed by $166 million for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice in 2016. The two films — largely shunned by critics — were directed by Snyder, who had been given dominion over the direction of DCEU. And the majority of critics did not embrace Suicide Squad, which debuted to $133.7 million in August 2016, five months after Dawn of Justice. Nor did Justice League earn good reviews.

Justice League picks up after the events in Dawn of Justice, as Batman and Wonder Woman mourn the death of Superman and put together a team of superheroes to defeat a new villain.

"While Marvel movies are now considered family entertainment, mostly because of their abundance of humor, DC films, outside of Wonder Woman, haven’t found the magical formula yet. In fact, the disappointing opening of Justice League only further cements how poorly Batman v. Superman was received. Nothing erodes a franchise or a brand faster than negative word of mouth," says box-office analyst Jeff Bock of Exhibitor Relations. "Justice League and the entire DC universe, outside of Wonder Woman, has an identity crisis."

To be sure, Justice League is finding more love overseas, where it opened to $185.5 million from 65 markets. It is faring best in Latin America, including a record-breaking $14.2 million debut in Brazil. Justice League stars Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Amy Adams and J.K. Simmons.

Warners isn't commenting officially on the disappointing domestic opening, except to say the film is well positioned to play through the Thanksgiving holiday and into December (the next big tentpole is Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which opens Dec. 15). "Our path to ultimate box-office success is different from what we thought it would be," says Warners domestic distribution president Jeff Goldstein.

Still, it has to sting that Marvel Studios' and Disney's threequel Thor: Ragnarok debuted to $122.7 million in North America two weeks ago, by far the best showing of the stand-alone Thor films.

"Is Thor hurting Justice League? One could argue that Thor may have inspired a heightened level of excitement for the genre, though it could be argued that audiences got the superhero fix they needed with Thor," says comScore's Paul Dergarabedian.

Justice League may not have been a hit among critics, but it did garner relatively strong audience scores in exit polls conducted by comScore's PostTrak service.

"That being said, the bar for the genre has been raised," says Dergarabedian. "There is no denying that every DC film is vitally important to the future, and most importantly, the momentum of the brand. The success of Wonder Woman and the elements that made it a runaway critical and box-office winner is to be applied where and when possible to future DC films for obvious reasons."

Aquaman, the next film in the DCEU series, is set to hit theaters Dec. 21, 2018.

Nov. 20, 8 a.m. Updated with final domestic gross for Justice League.