- DC movies have improved their Rotten Tomatoes scores but have seen a decline in box office performance, posing a challenge for future films.
- The early DCEU movies had high box office numbers but low Rotten Tomatoes scores, prompting Warner Bros. to take drastic actions that backfired.
- While recent DC movies have received better reviews, their box office results have worsened, indicating that critical success doesn’t guarantee commercial success.
Recent DC movies have drastically improved their average Rotten Tomatoes scores compared to the early days of the DCEU, but their box office averages dropped drastically at the same time. To say the last decade has been a rocky journey for DC movies would be an understatement, and the franchise’s struggle to wrangle both “Fresh” scores from critics on Rotten Tomatoes while still being a hit at the box office underlines those struggles. While there have been some really well-reviewed DC movies in the last 10 years and some really big hits at the box office, the two metrics rarely coincide, posing a big challenge for future DCU movies.
While the early DCEU movies were all big hits at the box office, their “Rotten” scores on Rotten Tomatoes were frequently cited as evidence the universe was headed in the wrong direction. While Fresh reviews are a logical objective for any franchise, the drastic actions taken by Warner Bros. to course-correct only made matters worse for Suicide Squad and Justice League. While the latter has received a much-better reviewed redux in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, Suicide Squad‘s director’s cut has yet to surface. More recent DC movies have fared much better with critics, but the critical success hasn’t translated to improved box office.
The DCEU Has Drastically Improved its Average Rotten Tomatoes Score
Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, the first movie in what’s now known as the “DCEU” or “Snyderverse,” earned mixed reviews with a 56 percent Rotten score on Rotten Tomatoes, although it was hailed as a box office success at the time, earning more than any prior Superman movie. The sequel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, proved even more divisive, drawing a 29 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, with Suicide Squad dipping even lower to 26 percent. Things drastically improved with Wonder Woman, which earned a 93 percent Rotten Tomatoes score, and is still the highest-scoring DCEU movie on Rotten Tomatoes.
The DCEU still had some critical struggles following Wonder Woman, but its average Rotten Tomatoes score has gradually improved. After Suicide Squad, the DCEU’s Rotten Tomatoes average was just 37 percent, improving to 51 percent after Wonder Woman and eventually passing the 60 percent average mark following Shazam!‘s 90 percent and Birds of Prey‘s 79 percent. Since then, the DCEU has averaged just 64 percent, bringing the overall average to 61 percent, much better than the franchise started off, but 20 points lower than the MCU’s 81 percent average. Additionally, while reviews have improved, box office has done the opposite.
The DCEU’s Box Office Average Has Gotten Worse And Worse
After opening to $668 million worldwide, Man of Steel was heralded as a huge success, earning more than any prior Superman movie and outgrossing every MCU movie at the time other than The Avengers. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice also set box office records for Warner Bros. and is still the studio’s second-highest opening weekend of all time at the domestic box office. Unfortunately, its second-weekend box office saw a sharp decline and its $821.8 million box office fell short of the $1 billion benchmark, but it’s still the second-highest-grossing DCEU movie behind Aquaman‘s $1.1 billion.
Cumulatively, the first seven of the 14 theatrically released DCEU movies earned $5.3 billion at the global box office while averaging 57 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, while the last seven DCEU movies (including Blue Beetle) earned just $1.4 billion despite averaging 66 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. The Rotten Tomatoes score is a marginal nine-point improvement, but the average has dropped from $754.7 million for the first seven movies in the franchise to just $205.3 million. That’s an average decrease of $549.4 million, an amount higher than the total gross of any single DCEU movie since Aquaman, and lower than any single DCEU movie before Aquaman.
In fairness to recent DCEU movies, the COVID pandemic had a major box office impact, so some of those losses were unavoidable, but the drop began prior to COVID-related theater shutdowns and didn’t bounce back after theaters reopened to the extent seen by the MCU or other franchises, which also saw decreased box office hauls during the pandemic. For contrast, Black Adam is the highest-grossing DCEU movie since Aquaman with $393.3 million, which is lower than every single post-Phase 1 MCU movie other than Black Widow‘s $379.8 despite Black Widow opening while many theaters were still shit down, while Black Adam released after Spider-Man: No Way Home earned $1.9 billion.
Only Two DCEU Movies Have Fresh Rotten Tomatoes Scores and Huge Box Office Hauls
Out of the 15 theatrically released DCEU movies, only one has earned a strong Rotten Tomatoes score higher than 70 percent and made a big box office splash. Wonder Woman‘s 93 percent Rotten Tomatoes score is still the highest-scoring DCEU movie on Rotten Tomatoes and its $821.8 million global box office haul is still the third-highest-grossing movie in the DCEU, while its $412.6 million domestic haul is the best in the franchise. The next-best Rotten Tomatoes and box office combination in the DCEU belongs to Aquaman, which is the highest-grossing DCEU movie globally with $1.1 billion and the sixth-highest Rotten Tomatoes score at 65 percent.
After Aquaman and Wonder Woman, the DCEU movies with Fresh Rotten Tomatoes scores all earned less than half of Wonder Woman‘s total box office, with Shazam! (90 percent) coming in at $366 million, Blue Beetle (81 percent) at $104.4 million (so far), Birds of Prey (79 percent) at $201.9 million, and The Flash (64 percent) at $268.5 million. The franchise is perfectly split on Rotten Tomatoes with seven Fresh movies and seven Rotten movies with the Rotten movies combining for a cumulative $3.6 billion, representing 54 percent of the franchise’s $6.7 billion total.
Positive reviews and Fresh Rotten Tomatoes scores are an understandable goal for any franchise, especially after the MCU’s box office success, which coincided with 25 consecutive Fresh scores on Rotten Tomatoes, but clearly reviews alone aren’t a determination of success. As seen with other franchises like Transformers, Fast and Furious, and Pirates of the Caribbean, it’s possible to achieve massive box office success despite mixed or negative reviews. With James Gunn’s quasi reboot with the upcoming DCU slate, hopefully the franchise can finally consistently marry commercial and critical success, or at the very least avoid scuttling their entire cinematic universe plan if things start off rocky.