"I kneel before no one"

Even The Rock’s star power wasn’t enough to deliver a box office win for DC

The Dwayne Johnson-starring “Black Adam” is on track to lose more than $100 million at the box office

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Not quite a one man army at DC.
Not quite a one man army at DC.
Photo: Eamonn M. McCormack (Getty Images)

As the curtains close on Black Adam’s theatrical run, the DC superhero movie is in the red.

The movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the titular role, which cost $200 million to make and $100 million to market, reportedly needs to make $600 million to break even, a Dec. 5 report by entertainment business magazine Variety noted. The massive figure accounts for the fact that movie theaters keep 45-50% of the earnings.

So far, it has yet to breach even the $400 million mark after a seven-week run at the box office.

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The Warner Bros. Discovery film is mostly struggling because Black Adam as a character lacks the star power of the better-known Spidermans and Supermans of the comic book world. One of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood, Johnson has drawn massive audiences with his Jumanji films, but even he was not bait enough for cinemagoers this time. Neither was the leaked cameo clip of Henry Cavill reprising his Superman role.

When will Black Adam be available on HBOMax?

Typically, Warner Bros. releases movies online 60 days after theatrical release. Black Adam, which was released in theaters on Oct. 21, is expected to land on Warner Bros’ HBOMax platform around Dec. 19.

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But it could take longer—Elvis took 71 days. An official streaming release date for Black Adam hasn’t been announced yet.

Despite the disappointing ticket sales, Black Adam is eventually expected to get out of the red by the time it gets to the HBOMax streaming platform, with up to $35 million poised to come from video-on-demand, according to Variety.

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Charted: Black Adam isn’t in the top 10 grossers of 2022

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From Halloween Ends to bad reviews, what went wrong with Black Adam?

Black Adam’s reception suggests it was a shoddy job from making to release:

🍿 Black Adam’s cinema audiences chastised the makers for lack of originality, weak plot, amateur dialogues, and just an overall poor work.

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🎞 Critics gave it a dismal 39% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

🎟️ The timing of the release was not great. If releasing around Halloween, just a week after the more apt Halloween Ends wasn’t bad enough, it didn’t help that Marvel’s highly anticipated second Black Panther film, a tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman, swept up audiences within weeks.

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Moreover, DC isn’t having the smoothest ride. Ever since its merger with Warner Bros., there have been management and programming upsets. Most notably, Batgirl was shelved after it was shot. A third Wonder Woman movie has reportedly been scrapped. And while its biggest bet, The Flash, is supposed to be in top shape, lead Ezra Miller’s off-set antics—harassment, assault, burglary, grooming minors, and more—have repeatedly put the film’s fate in flux. The movie is on track for a June 2023 release despite it all, but reputational damage could curb its success. According to a study by Morning Consult, 42% of 5 US adults are against a studio releasing a film starring an actor accused of serious crimes.

Can DC’s superhero universe rival the MCU?

While DC still struggles to find its footing, Marvel’s cinematic universe has sprinted miles ahead. Even its lukewarm performers this year, like the new Doctor Strange and Thor movies, outshined Black Adam. But DC has a shot at playing this race like the turtle, not the hare.

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No match for Man of Steel or Justice League, Black Adam still trumped some of DC’s other theatrical outings like Shazam! and Birds of Prey, breathing some new life into the struggling franchise. Plus, despite getting berated by critics, the audience Rotten Tomatoes score is a promising 88%.

There are several Black Adam films in the pipeline, and a second script is reportedly ready already. And there’s hope Johnson’s star power can be minted right.

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“Dwayne Johnson isn’t necessarily an actor born to play a superhero, but he is a capable, plug-and-play franchise lead,” Eric Francisco, senior entertainment reporter at Inverse, wrote in his review. A different script and a more challenging director might have taken Johnson to the artistic heights he set out as his ambition for Black Adam.”

People of interest: James Gunn and Peter Safran

The DC studio’s new head honchos, director James Gunn and producer Peter Safran, are banking on an eight-to-ten year plan to turn things around. The duo have big plans to capitalize on Marvel’s transition phase that span well beyond Black Adam.

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Gunn will be the creative force while Safran will look after the business side of things. Gunn’s appointment, putting a top filmmaker in a top exec position, is unprecedented but intriguing. He comes armed with experience from DC’s rival, Marvel. Gunn directed the 2014 Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy and its 2017 sequel, and was briefly fired-and-rehired for the third installment that’s out in May 2023.

At DC, where he’s been since 2018, Gunn tasted enough success with The Suicide Squad, which he wrote and directed, to create its HBO Max spinoff Peacemaker, starring John Cena. Its second season is confirmed.

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Like Marvel, DC will tell its comic book stories via movies and TV—but its ambitions also go a step further to include animation to tell “the Biggest Story Ever Told,” Gunn tweeted on Nov. 27. The studio head has left several other crumbs for fans to look forward to, including teasing Harley Quinn’s comeback and a Kingdom Come comic book twist in the next Superman movies.

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This post has been updated with details about the Wonder Woman and The Flash movies.