The Flash's box office nightmare: Warner Bros.' historic flop

When expectations meet reality: The Flash
When expectations meet reality: The Flash's disappointing box office performance (Image via Sportskeeda)

As things stand, The Flash, a venture directed by Andy Muschietti, seems set to claim the dubious honor of becoming Warner Bros.' most disastrous box office calamity ever.

Despite an enthusiastic word-of-mouth marketing campaign driven by household names such as Tom Cruise, Stephen King, and DC Studios co-CEO James Gunn, the film is fizzling out domestically and globally.

Ezra Miller, Michael Keaton, and Sasha Calle's star power have failed to bring in the expected revenue, as the film's domestic box office earnings haven't crossed the $100 million mark.

Now, as The Flash heads into its third weekend, the film's prospects continue to dwindle, with 1,538 fewer North American theaters playing the movie, diminishing its chances of a last-minute turnaround.

The Flash: On track to become Warner Bros.' biggest box office flop

Warner Bros.' disastrous gamble: The Flash's box office disappointment (Image via DC Studios)
Warner Bros.' disastrous gamble: The Flash's box office disappointment (Image via DC Studios)

Luiz Fernando, a box office analyst, noted that if The Flash continues its poor performance trend, Warner Bros. will lose over $200 million. Fernando stated that the film's colossal $150 million marketing budget might not be regained through box office revenues. WB might have "been better off releasing it on Max or not releasing it at all."

How does this potential loss compare with Warner Bros.'s past cinematic missteps?

The global pandemic, coupled with WB's choice to launch all of its movies simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max, has resulted in several recent financial disappointments for the studio.

Wonder Woman 1984, significantly affected by COVID-19, posted losses estimated at $137 million. Despite critical acclaim, its DC contemporary, The Suicide Squad, lost $120 million.

Two other recent underperformers, day-and-date releases, were The Matrix Resurrections, featuring Keanu Reeves, and the remake of Space Jam: A New Legacy with LeBron James. The former lost $130 million, while the latter took a hit of $111 million for WB.

The studio also weathered some pre-pandemic losses during the 2010s. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, released in 2017, lost an estimated $153.2 million for the studio, having grossed under $149 million worldwide.

Jupiter Ascending, the unfortunate space odyssey featuring Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis, inflicted a loss of around $120 million on Warner Bros, amassing a paltry $47.4 million in domestic earnings (with worldwide revenue totaling $183.9 million).

On a comparative basis, The Flash's failure would be a monumental loss for WB, marking a historic failure comparable to Disney's John Carter debacle. Here is a comparison of The Flash's projected loss against other Warner Bros. flops, not adjusted for inflation:

  • The Flash - $200 million (estimated)
  • King Arthur: Legend of the Sword - $153.2 million
  • Wonder Woman 1984 - $137 million
  • The Matrix Resurrections - $130 million
  • Jupiter Ascending - $120 million
  • The Suicide Squad - $120 million
  • Space Jam: A New Legacy - $111 million

This is a harsh truth for Warner Bros. that had hoped for success following the tepid receptions of Black Adam and Shazam! Fury of the Gods.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom and Blue Beetle: Last DC films of 2023 in spotlight

Aquaman and Blue Beetle: Two distinct superhero adventures set to close out an eventful year for DC Films in 2023 (Image via DC Studios)
Aquaman and Blue Beetle: Two distinct superhero adventures set to close out an eventful year for DC Films in 2023 (Image via DC Studios)

Significant box office failures often lead to hard decisions by studio executives. The studio once put Batgirl on hold to save money. Now, all eyes are on Blue Beetle, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.

These are the last two DC films of 2023 and the final superhero flicks greenlit by the previous regime. Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is set to be released five years after its 2018 predecessor, which earned a staggering $1 billion.

Despite The Flash's failure, releasing Aquaman 2 directly to Max or canceling it altogether seems unlikely, as Warner Bros believes it still has a substantial audience.

The path to a theatrical release for Blue Beetle, initially set for a streaming premiere, has been markedly different. This origin story, featuring Xolo Maridueña, might have to revert to its original plan.

Major releases incur hefty expenses, both in terms of global theater distribution and marketing investments. The Flash was promoted as a potential blockbuster in the summer of 2023.

However, Warner Bros. can't risk investing more in Blue Beetle, a relatively unknown entity that will rely heavily on positive word-of-mouth to perform well at the August box office.

DC fans may require a fresh start, and they're set to get one with the release of Superman: Legacy, starring David Corenswet and Rachel Brosnahan, on June 11, 2025.

The Flash is currently screening in theaters.

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Edited by Prem Deshpande