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‘Black Adam’ Tops VOD Charts After Disappointing $400 Million Box Office

Director Jaume Collet-Serra’s superhero extravaganza Black Adam has arrived to upset the balance of power in VOD markets, securing the top spot on home PVOD entertainment charts this week. Unfortunately, this comes after a disappointing $400+/- million box office performance that, although nothing to sneeze at generally speaking, is still shy of the numbers it needed to overcome hefty production costs.

Black Adam’s arrival on VOD comes ahead of its release in Japan, where it will likely gross an additional $5-10 million in ticket sales. With $378 million in worldwide receipts to date and probably a couple of million or more to come from existing markets before the film leaves theaters, Japan’s cume should help lift Black Adam toward $390-400+ million, depending on how all of the final numbers shake out. My guess is a final tally of $395 million, give or take a couple of million.

A $400 million finish is right where I expected it to land when I reported on the box office situation four weeks ago, despite a lot of entertainment press trying to hype the results and repeatedly suggesting Black Adam was enjoying a great box office run when all evidence pointed to the opposite.

Let me quickly address some of the angry reactions to my reporting on this film and its performance. It doesn’t make me happy to see a film underperform, especially films I want to root for (which includes DC films). But my job is to talk about these things based on the best data available, to make reasonable informed assessments. And as I said at the time, it does nobody any good to be disingenuous about the situation or deny the problems — there’s no way to expect WBD and DC Studios (the latter of which I do particularly trust now that proper leadership is in place there) to fix problems at the studio and to trust them if we can’t be honest about how films are performing.

Black Adam cost about $180-200 million, plus at least another $100 million or so in marketing costs. So at minimum, the roughly $280-300 million investment needed at least $560-600 million in box office just to break even.

A finish of $400+/- million, then, is around $180-200 million short of covering expenses. That means merchandising dollars will fill that gap, so all of that supposedly sweet smell of cash from the VOD chart-topper will have to cover up the scent of shortfall before anybody gets too excited about it.

If this all seems harsh, I suppose it is. But that’s because this was an actually good DC superhero movie starring one of the biggest names in cinema today (Dwayne Johnson), with a cameo by the most famous superhero in the world (Superman), and a theatrical market that gave it three weeks to itself to build up a nice head of steam.

In other words, Black Adam had lots of opportunity to be a bigger hit, to at least top $500 million territory and stack up profit from merchandising while we all waited for a sequel showdown between the titular antihero and the Man of Steel. It had lots of reasons to succeed, and only a few to fall short.

The ultimately disappointing box office result is directly attributable to a few key factors. First and foremost, the marketing for the movie turned into pure fan-focused promotion leading to media coverage dominated by discussion of Cavill’s return and fan reactions to it. “For the fans” became the defining characteristic of the film if you read about it online in the final couple of weeks leading up to release.

I won’t dig into all of this deeply again, but you can read my detailed analysis here explaining why this approach hurt the film’s chances.

The bottom line is, focusing so much of the advance promotion on outreach to a specific subset of fans and turning all of the conversations about the movie into Cavill-Superman speculation wasn’t the best idea. Nor was it advisable to merely include Superman in a cameo at the end and hide this from the marketing, yet then wink to the public about it and let it leak out — if you include Superman, just go all in and at least have a few scenes of Clark hearing the news about Black Adam’s arrival and show Superman talking to Waller about it, and then put some of those scenes in the trailers.

It was also no doubt hard to commit to talking points or promotion around what the future has in store, when that future is up in the air because new plans are being made and nobody except those directly involved in making decisions knows what’s coming next (read my report about all of that, and what it probably means, here).

Whatever plans and intentions existed when Black Adam was in production and during release, the fact is James Gunn and Peter Safran took over the newly minted DC Studios and are inventing their own new future plans for the entire DCEU, and Gunn publicly confirmed that anybody claiming to know what’s really going to happen is misinformed or lying, because nobody else knows yet and DC Studios’ co-CEOs haven’t submitted their plans to Zaslav and other WBD executives yet — that’ll come sometime in the next month or two.

So no matter what you hear the intentions and plans were in the past, and no matter what you think this or that public statement/reaction to Cavill’s return indicates, the fact remains that there are new sheriffs in town who have new plans and you can’t possibly know what those plans are yet. None of us know. Maybe Cavill is staying, maybe a Black Adam sequel is going to get made, or maybe everything will change.

For now, though, by definition any prior plans can’t be considered still active and any rumors and claims you hear are based on old information that may be completely useless now.

Which brings us back around to Black Adam’s VOD release. This could be the one and only time you get to see Johnson’s antihero/villain protagonist, and it might be the last time you see Cavill suit up as well. If so, that makes Black Adam even more of a must-see, even if it’s also an unintentional bittersweet farewell to this era of Superman in the DCEU. Either way, you can and should watch it and enjoy it regardless of whether you’ll get more of it.

With Black Adam’s streaming premiere still somewhere in the distance, it has a good opportunity to grab a lot of revenue on VOD, and I hope we see more aggressive marketing for it — including the fact it’s got a diverse cast and is a more straightforward approach to DC superhero moviemaking that should appeal to a wider mainstream global audience, as opposed to just being “for the fans.”


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