Birds Of Prey: Is There A Box Office Double Standard?

Birds of Prey recently hit theaters, and while most critics seemed to get a kick out of it, most audiences didn’t seem to bother heading to the theaters. Over the course of its initial weekend, the movie made a disappointing $33.3 million domestically and $81.3 worldwide. This came in well under projections that ranged from $45 million all the way to $55 million. In short, it was substantially under expectations. And, to put things into perspective, this is all off of a budget of $84.5 million. 

When all said and done, I think it’s fair to at least call this a disappointment, yes? After all, it is a film that takes place in the DC Extended Universe, it is a superhero film, and it does star the popular Harley Quinn character…but it does deserving of such headlines as: “Birds of Prey Stumbles at the Box Office,” “Birds of Prey Has Worst Box Office Opening Ever For A DCEU Movie,” and “Birds of Prey Grounded With $33.3M Bow”?

RELATED – Birds Of Prey Gets Its CinemaScore And It Isn’t Great

Now, I’ll admit up front that, objectively speaking, none of these titles are fake. They’re just slanted from a different perspective. But is it a fair slant? Allow me to direct your attention to another film.

Ford v Ferrari

I’m sure you’ve heard of it. It was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars and starred Christian Bale and Matt Damon. It also took in $31.5 million in its opening weekend domestically and $52 million worldwide, and it had a budget of 97.6 million. With this lesser than performance in mind, you’d half-expect headlines to skew similarly to Birds of Prey, right?

But no. Instead, we have headlines like “Ford v Ferrari Wins Weekend B.O. Race With $31M,” “Ford v Ferrari Finishes First At The Box Office,” and “Ford v Ferrari is the Hit Fox And Disney Both Needed.”

Yes, the movie ultimately made over $220 million worldwide, but given its nearly $100 million budget, were the margins wide enough to warrant all the praise that went into it? Why is it that it was regaled with ecstatic headlines, whereas Birds of Prey landed with a thud?

Expectations Are Everything

It’s worth pointing out the expectations here. In spite of the crazy $97.5 million budget of the film, the studio was only expecting Ford v Ferrari to make just over $20 million in its opening weekend. It was a prestige film meant more to elevate the art form than do gangbusters at the box office, and as such, expectations are inherently lower.

Conversely, Birds of Prey was a fun, bombastic comic book movie. The latest in a hot genre with solid reviews to boot. In recent years, most good comic book movies actually managed to find an audience and exceed all expectations. This goes double for R-rated fare, including Deadpool and Joker. Add in the pressure that comes with being the first female-spearheaded ensemble action film (both in front of and behind the camera) and you have a recipe for big expectations.

So, yes, while Birds of Prey is likely to be the “objective” winner at the box office between it and Ford v Ferrari, it will likely never be able to escape the narrative that the movie comes with. It’s a part of a big universe, it features a talented and beloved star, it has solid ratings, and it’s a female ensemble. All of these big things add up to inflated expectations, which ultimately leads to warped headlines.


So, is there a double standard? Absolutely. But I’d argue that, on some level, the double standard makes sense, as it is derived from expectations. What is important is that we don’t lose sight of the bottom line of whether or not a movie ultimately made money.

At the end of the day, that’s one of the most important metrics out there. It’s not just a matter of “did the movie perform the best that any movie possibly could,” but “did it bring a return on the studio’s investment”? For Birds of Prey, that remains to be seen, but it’s not looking half-bad.

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