Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment’s “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” will lead the post-Super Bowl weekend. Although it would have to exceed expectations to avoid being the first film to fall short of its 2019 predecessor, this is a case when it’s not a fair comp.
This date often sees a bevy of new films, since Super Bowl weekend lacks top titles and it often falls closest to Valentine’s Day. That’s not the case this year; not only is February 14 next Friday, that weekend also overlaps President’s Day.
For now, “Birds of Prey” benefits from being the sole new release and the first one since “Bad Boys For Life” three weeks ago that had more than niche interest. (Technically, “Dolittle” would also belong in that category, but the public felt otherwise.)
It seems nearly impossible to match 2019 this weekend; last year saw four new releases with “The Lego Movie 2” best at $34 million. With the rest, the total came to about $70 million. That’s way above the most optimistic guesses for “Birds,” which is expected to easily do more than $35 million but fall short of “Bad Boys,” which grossed $62 million.
Apart from being a high-profile draw, it builds on two previous comic book movie successes in February: “Deadpool” in 2016 and “Black Panther” in 2018. Both thrived outside the normal fanbase.
“Birds of Prey” shares with “Deadpool” a tongue-in-cheek attitude and a R rating. It has girl-power appeal (and with Valentine’s Day approaching, a better chance for second-weekend appeal). Harley Quinn is a multi-decade sidekick in the D.C. print-world universe who evolved from a villain with ties to the Joker to an antihero figure. Portrayed here by Margot Robbie (an Oscar nominee this weekend coming off two acclaimed movies last year, and also a producer here), the $81 million reported budget has a freshness that has propelled other comic book titles to success.
Early reviews have been mixed, but that isn’t much different from “Deadpool,” which had a massive $132 million domestic opening. Of course, that had the benefit of the Marvel fanbase (though released by 20th Century Fox, not Disney) as well of the rare sense of a comic-book movie that included a smart-ass sense of humor as well as the notion that its heroes might be human enough to have a sex life.
Here, the R rating is more for strong violence (as well as language), which puts it on a different level than the more conventional “Wonder Woman.” That D.C. character is far more iconic than Harley Quinn, but her outsider status gave the creative team more leeway to try new things.
That team includes Cathy Yan, who is the first Asian-American woman to direct a high-budget studio release. (Chloe Zhao comes right behind her this fall with Marvel’s “The Eternals.”) Yan’s “Dead Pigs” in 2018, set in Shanghai, debuted at Sundance but received mostly festival play after. This is a major leap for her, and reflects the impact of “Wonder Woman” and Patty Jenkins.
Still, the fate of Harley Quinn is uncertain, although $50 million-$60 million would be a reasonable opening. Over the past five years, six movies on this date (three of which targeted kids) have done that well, with “Black Panther” dwarfing all others at $202 million. “Fifty Shades of Grey” in 2015 approached $90 million.
The rest of the Top Ten should follow close to last weekend. “Bad Boys” is likely the only other film that will gross more than $10 million, unless a pre-Oscar boost miminizes the fall of “1917.” Then a series of grosses around $5 million or lower, led by “Dolittle.” Though January had two major releases to help start 2020 on an uptick, most of the rest of the new titles have been flat or worse.
“Birds” should be the first of many weeks with potential standouts. By the end of this month, we’ll know if the early positive signs suggest a stronger-than-expected 2020.