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Let’s Unpack the Narratives Around Birds of Prey’s Box Office Stumble

Harley Quinn sits on a yellow sofa with a hyena in the Birds of Prey poster.

(image: Warner Bros.)

As of this weekend, despite the overwhelmingly positive response from critics and audiences, Birds of Prey did not meet expectations at the box office, pulling in just under $34 million, according to Rotten Tomatoes. According to the New York Times, “analysts had expected the film’s domestic opening to reach around $50 million,” and the film has made an “additional estimated $48 million overseas this weekend.”

So, while myself and many others are hoping good word of mouth will help bring people into the theaters, we should still ask, “Why hasn’t Birds of Prey done as well as expected?”

Some are framing the issue as a failure in marketing. Many people didn’t know who the Birds of Prey are, didn’t know how this film fit in with Suicide Squad, and early trailers failed to really highlight the plot of the movie.

While DC comics nerds and other casual fans might be familiar with Birds of Prey, it goes without saying that Harley Quinn is the most popular character on the posters, so many think they should have just made this a Harley Quinn movie. Honestly, Harley is polarizing character for a lot of fans. Yes, she is popular, but I know plenty of people who were also turned off at the idea of watching an entire movie built around that character and wanted to know if it was more of an ensemble before checking it out. Still, it might have been better to call his movie Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey, because she does have the bigger name.

I also think it would have been best if the movie were a little less attached to some of Harley’s look from Suicide Squad. That movie did well financially, but it was panned for a reason, and Harley’s look in the movie was half good and half obnoxious. If it were clearer that this is a soft sequel to Suicide Squad, but a very tonally different film, I think more people would have seen it.

Then, there is the issue of the “R” rating. I’ve seen people say that if the film were rated PG-13, then more young girls could have gone and seen it. I’m sort of split on this. I was glad that Cathy Yan and the team got to make and R-rated female superhero movie. Deadpool made money with an R rating, and I remember seeing plenty of teen boys in my showing who had been brought along by someone older. I don’t want to begrudge the fact that teenage girls would have wanted to see this movie, but I also feel like we don’t make raunchy movies aimed at guys PG-13 “just in case.”

Even when it comes to R-rated teen comedies marketed at teens, there is always a divide about how female-led ones need to be rated down for teen girls because, for some reason, they won’t be seen otherwise. It’s a weird double standard that I never really understood, though I feel like I can see the point of Birds of Prey being a more bankable watch at PG-13—just lose the f-bombs—but I enjoyed the film where it is.

The only argument that I find ridiculous is all of the bullshit “SJW” narrative that certain sections of the internet, led by Salad bros, decided to propagate. This idea that the film alienated men because the women were “not sexy” and that it placed men as the “bad guys” shows a hyper simplistic and honestly false idea of what this movie is about. A film that highlights female characters fighting one canon male comic book villain does not a gender war make. Plus, Harley is also very clearly still a “bad guy” at the end of it, so it’s not even as if it has this one-to-one idea of men=bad, women=good.

Also, consider that your god Zach Snyder made Sucker Punch, and y’all didn’t see that either, maybe this has less to do with the content of the movie, and more about y’alls biases about these kinds of girl gang gang movies.

I think that if Birds of Prey failed at anything, it’s that it should have leaned more into what it was doing. It should have highlighted being the first woman of color directed, written, and majority led female comic book movie. Half the marketing of Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman was all about how we, as women, should be excited to see this because fighting, women, etc., and Birds of Prey should have done that. Use that girl power impact because honestly, it earned out to be that more, in the end, than a lot of other films did. Plus, it had some of the best fight scenes in a comic book movie that wasn’t completely reliant on big-budget CGI.

I feel like the movie made a lot of brave calls, and if it had done well, we’d be praising it, but the slow box office has unfairly called it all into question. I’m glad that Yan and the team tried to make it an ensemble and lean into the fun and excitement of the film. It drew me in, and I think when people actually see the film, they will be happily surprised.

What did you guys think of Birds of Prey?

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Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.