LOS ANGELES — Only in the modern era of superhero films could a $96 million opening weekend be considered anything less than impressive. But that's the situation Justice League is in.
The big-budget superhero mash-up came in well under expectations, which had pegged it for a $110 million launch in North American theaters. If studio estimates hold, it also will have the dubious distinction of being the lowest-opening film in the DC Extended Universe.
It has been a roller coaster for DC since Man of Steel kicked off the comic-book franchise in 2013, with films battling high expectations, critical reviews and the impossible standard of competing against the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Justice League comes on the heels of the widely well-received Wonder Woman, the first DC film to score with both critics and audiences. It reunites Ben Affleck's Batman and Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman to fight a new threat facing Earth, while introducing new characters like Ezra Miller's The Flash, Jason Momoa's Aquaman and Ray Fisher's Cyborg.
Justice League didn't impress critics, but neither did Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (which opened to $166 million), nor Suicide Squad (which still managed to earn $133.7 million out of the gates).
Warner Bros. remains optimistic about Justice League's prospects, even with the lower-than-expected launch against a production budget that's reported to be in the $250 million to $300 million range, before marketing expenses.
"I did have a higher expectation for the three days," says Jeff Goldstein, who heads domestic distribution for Warner Bros. But he's encouraged by a few factors, including the overall B-plus audiences gave the movie in CinemaScore; the fact that women, who accounted for 42% of the audience, gave it an A-minus overall; and that Saturday earnings were up from Friday's.
"Clearly, there's interest," Goldstein says.
One film that did have a heroic showing is Wonder, an adaptation of R.J. Palacio's novel about a child with severe facial irregularities that stars Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson and Jacob Tremblay. The family-friendly drama opened in second place with $27.1 million and could be on its way to becoming a sleeper hit.
"It's one of the brightest spots of the weekend," says Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst for comScore. "This could be a $100 million movie as people get the word out."
Disney/Marvel's Thor: Ragnarok fell to third place in its third weekend with $21.8 million ($247.4 million total domestically). Daddy's Home 2 took fourth with $14.8 million, and Murder on the Orient Express landed in fifth with $13.8 million. Both are in their second weekend in theaters.
Opening outside of the top 10, the faith-based animated film The Star took sixth place with $10 million. And both Lady Bird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri continue to thrive in their expansions.
The Thanksgiving holiday shouldn't be discounted in its potential to boost a film's earnings, and the only, albeit formidable, competition will be from Pixar's latest, Coco.
"Thanksgiving is the perfect second weekend for any movie," Dergarabedian says. "Including Justice League."
Final numbers are expected Monday.