Even If It's Really Good, DC's Blue Beetle Faces An Uphill Box Office Battle

The DC Universe is in a period of flux right now. This year, Warner Bros. is releasing the final films produced under the old regime, including "The Flash" and "Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom." Meanwhile, the new regime at DC Studios, headed up by James Gunn and Peter Safran, are gearing up for a full-blown reboot (even if they don't want to call it a reboot), which kicks off in 2025 with Gunn's "Superman: Legacy." Caught somewhere in the middle? "Blue Beetle."

Recently, the first trailer for the long-awaited "Blue Beetle" film surfaced online. Save for a line about Batman, it was pretty much allowed to exist on its own terms, with "Cobra Kai" star Xolo Maridueña bringing Jaime Reyes to life in live-action for the first time. The film is clearly positioned as an origin story, and very much looks like it's going to be divorced from the larger DC Universe. In that way, it could still fold in to what Gunn and Safran have planned. Yet, at the same time, it was largely completed before they were even hired. It's an odd place for a potential blockbuster film to be.

That is just the tip of the iceberg and the circumstances surrounding this film's release that make its commercial prospects murky. Can this movie break out and become a box office hit? Or is launching a new, largely unknown superhero to the masses that feels disconnected from the larger narrative doomed to fail? Even in the spirit of hoping for the best, one must acknowledge that director Angel Manuel Soto's film is fighting an uphill battle.

New superheroes aren't breaking out

Before the pandemic, superheroes were seemingly infallible, with even an average comic book film going on to earn big money. Case in point, the terribly reviewed "Venom" earned a staggering $856 million in 2018, with "Venom: Let There Be Carnage" managing to pull in $506 million despite the pandemic of it all in 2021. But the narrative has changed a bit in the post-pandemic world. Particularly as of late, new superheroes that audiences aren't yet familiar with are having an exceptionally difficult time breaking out on their own terms.

While 2021 was certainly a recovery year, Marvel's "Eternals" struggled mightily against expectations, barely crossing the $400 million mark worldwide. 2022 was also brutal, with Sony's "Morbius" flopping very hard following its opening weekend. On the DC side of things, Dwayne Johnson's "Black Adam" turned into a downright debacle, failing to cross $400 million globally while possibly harming "Shazam! Fury of the Gods" in the process. Not to mention that the animated "DC League of Super-Pets" only pulled in $207 million despite an extremely family-friendly focus.

Granted, these movies were largely panned by critics, which never helps anything. At the same time, it sure as hell didn't hurt "Venom." Nor did it hurt 2016's "Suicide Squad," which made a downright surprising $747 million (and even won an Oscar). The last time DC managed to launch a new hero to the masses was 2019's "Shazam!", and we're sad to say "Fury of the Gods" is going to go down as one of the biggest bombs of 2023, so even that had a really short lifespan.

The DC Universe reboot looms large

Not for nothing, but Marvel is struggling with some of its franchises as well, with "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" struggling to hit $500 million globally despite being billed as an Avengers-level event. The point is, audiences are being far more choosy about the superheroes they choose to support in the aftermath of the pandemic. Being average simply won't cut it anymore. But even if "Blue Beetle" proves to be a huge critical hit, the landscape being what it is may still make it tough for audiences to latch onto a new hero — particularly one that may be here for a one-and-done film. (To be clear, we have reason to believe the film is good, since Warner Bros. moved it from HBO Max to a summer release in theaters.)

The biggest problem is the way people have learned to think of these movies over the last 15 years, thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. "It's all connected" is the prevailing idea, which is what makes multiverses so appealing. That's why this movie might not get a fair shake even if it is good, because the DCU reboot is just around the corner. While there is much to be said about "Shazam! Fury of the Gods" tanking at the box office, a certain portion of that blame is probably owed to the new DCU. Audiences who are in the know are well aware the reset is coming, so why bother with the old when they could get ready for the new and just stream "Fury of the Gods" on HBO Max in a few weeks instead?

The late summer competition is a big factor

I am sympathetic to Warner Bros. here, as the Snyderverse largely had to go. It was time. The universe was a mess and it needed to be cleaned up. A reboot was probably the least messy way to go about that. Unfortunately, that may leave some casualties in its wake. "Blue Beetle" could be one of them. But there is yet another hurdle we haven't touched on yet: direct competition in theaters.

Unfortunately, the late summer window is pretty packed this year, with Sony's "Gran Turismo" and Universal's vampire flick "The Last Voyage of the Demeter" arriving on August 11, just one week before "Blue Beetle." Plus, August 4 will see "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem" and "Meg 2: The Trench" making their way to theaters. In the weeks that follow, Blumhouse's "They Listen," "The Equalizer 3," "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3," and "The Nun 2" are on deck.

So even if everything goes right, the reviews for the film are great, and James Gunn says Blue Beetle is part of the new DC Universe, the competition surrounding the film is significant. But if this film can overcome the odds and become a hit? That would be a nice little success story, proving that superhero films can continue to be relied on by major studios ... for the time being.

"Blue Beetle" is set to hit theaters on August 18, 2023.