Box-Office Analysis: What's Behind 'Suicide Squad's' Huge Saturday Drop?

Suicide Squad Still  - Publicity - H 2016
Clay Enos/Warner Bros.

Suicide Squad Still  - Publicity - H 2016

The anti-superhero film scored the top August opening of all time, but there could be trouble on the horizon for the supervillains.

The news couldn't have been better for Warner Bros.' DC Extended Universe as Saturday morning dawned over the Aug. 5-7 weekend. Despite horrible reviews, director David Ayer's Suicide Squad took in a mighty $65.1 million at the Friday box office, enough for a $145 million-$150 million North American debut judging by normal modeling analytics.

But foot traffic at theaters across the country fell off dramatically throughout Saturday. Revenue ended up being down 41 percent from Friday to Saturday, a huge decline.

To be sure, Suicide Squad still opened to a huge $135.1 million domestically, wresting the August crown from Marvel and Disney's likewise offbeat superhero film, Guardians of the Galaxy, which debuted to a surprising $94.3 million in 2014 on its way to earning a better-than-expected $773.3 million globally, including $333.2 million domestically.

The culprit for the big Saturday drop? Box-office analysts point to poor word-of-mouth following blistering notices and a B+ CinemaScore. That grade might sound OK, but most successful superhero movies generally receive some variation of an A.

A smart marketing campaign that played up the movie's fun and humor certainly succeeded in getting people into theaters, but the film's ultimate potential is in question if those moviegoers who were disappointed by the film's darker tone quickly shared their opinions. In the day of social media, Hollywood studios can no longer cheat an opening weekend.

"While the opening is massive, a title like this should really only fall in the 30 percent range at the outside. It isn't a good sign for playability," says one veteran distribution executive.

Earlier this year, fellow DCEU title Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice also fell steeply on Saturday, although not by as much (38 percent). Like Suicide Squad, Batman v. Superman was skewered by reviewers. And while it earned $872.7 million globally, many had thought $1 billion was a given until the marquee superhero film saw steep declines over subsequent weekends.

Warner Bros. says it is more than happy with Suicide Squad's launch. And studio distribution executive Jeff Goldstein says the Friday-to-Saturday drop is due to the fact that the movie took in $20.5 million on Thursday night, which was folded into Friday's gross. "From my perspective, this was an awesome weekend," he says.

But other superhero films that have done huge business in Thursday-night previews haven't fallen as much. Earlier this summer, rival Marvel and Disney's Captain America: Civil War, which earned $27.7 million in previews, fell just 19 percent from Friday to Saturday. And in summer 2015, Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron also did massive business on Thursday night before falling 33 percent from Friday to Saturday.

Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool, from Fox and Marvel, are better comps for Suicide Squad, since all three are considered offbeat. Guardians declined 18 percent from Friday to Saturday; Deadpool, a phenomenal 10 percent. Tellingly, both those movies had exceptionally strong legs.

In terms of its CinemaScore, Suicide Squad earned an overall B+, beating the ho-hum B grade for Batman v. Superman. And Goldstein notes that moviegoers under the age of 35 gave Ayer's film an A-, a good sign.

But it's a variation of an A grade that studios want for their superhero fare. Deadpool and Guardians both earned an A; ditto for all three films in Warners and Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy.

Marvel Studios' The Avengers earned an A+, followed by an A for Age of Ultron, while all three Captain America movies received a variation of an A. Marvel's first Thor movie received a B+, while the sequel earned an A-. Fox's X-Men: Apocalypse earned an A- earlier this summer and X-Men: Days of Future Past an A.

However, X-Men: First Class, which successfully rebooted the franchise but didn't do mega-business, earned a B+. Other superhero films earning some variation of a B include duds The Green Hornet (B+) and Elektra, Catwoman and Daredevil, all of which earned a B.

Superhero movies have rarely earned a C. The big exception was 2015 summer flop Fantastic Four.

Goldstein says the story is far from written in regards to Suicide Squad. "It will have playability because of the A- among moviegoers under the age of 35," he asserts.

"DC and their properties are highly desirable to audiences right now, as these massive debuts prove, however the rapid declines certainly don't help the long-term situation of these franchises," says box-office analyst Jeff Bock. "We've seen unparalleled sequel erosion this summer and most of that is quite simple: These aren't the highest-quality films, and most of them have been rushed into production before the treasure map — the script — is truly mapped out."