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Why The Suicide Squad Bombed At The Box Office

The highly anticipated release of James Gunn's not sequel, not reboot "The Suicide Squad" has impressed both audiences and critics, earning a 91% Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on over 200 reviews. The movie delivers on promises of intense R-rated violence and off-kilter humor, with a cast that includes returning actors Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, and Jai Courtney, as well as newcomers to the DCEU with Idris Elba, Daniela Melchior, Sylvester Stallone, and John Cena, among others. The 2021 film focuses on Davis's Amanda Waller as she leads two teams of crazy criminals to take down a Nazi-era laboratory called Jötunheim that is rumored to be the home base of a secret experiment known as "Project Starfish." 

Following up the disaster that is 2016's "Suicide Squad," there was a lot riding on this movie doing well. Thankfully, "The Suicide Squad" appears to have met the approval of longtime DC fans and regular moviegoers alike and overall the new film can be deemed a success, except for one factor — the box office. According to CNN Business, the new movie made approximately $26.5 million domestically during its first weekend, falling short of the $30 million industry projected return. So what happened? And why is the box office no longer the best landmark for a film's success? 

The Suicide Squad faces off against the Delta variant

The rise in the Delta variant of COVID-19 is likely a major factor in why "The Suicide Squad" fell short of the projected box office return. While the beginning of the summer had many businesses reopening, places all over relaxing mask guidelines, and all in all, a lot of daily life returning to some form of normalcy, that has all been challenged recently by a new COVID-19 variant known as Delta. The new mutation is very contagious and is affecting more unvaccinated individuals than before, while a lot of vaccinated people are also experiencing "breakthrough" cases. 

According to UC Davis Health's data, as of July 22, 2021, almost 80% of the organization's COVID patients had the Delta variant, while the CDC reported a higher percentage at the same time. The rise in the Delta variant has caused the CDC and many businesses to revert to previous mask and safety guidelines and suggest that people be more careful about the possible spread of the virus through indoor activities. This likely led some to postpone any plans to visit the movie theater, a place where people gather for two hours or so in a small room. While it's unclear exactly how much the Delta variant contributed to the film's box office shortcomings, it was definitely a big influence.

The shift to streaming makes it hard to gauge success through the box office

Probably the biggest reason for the lower box office returns in 2021 is the shift from theatrical release to streaming. In the case of "The Suicide Squad," the film is a part of Warner Bros.'s slate of releases, so like all of the studio's other recent movies, "The Suicide Squad" was released simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max. This gives people who are unwilling to go out to the theater right now a chance to catch the latest big release from the comfort of their own home. Other companies like Walt Disney Studios are also using a mixed theatrical and digital release system, though it's unclear how this will change going forward. 

Because of this recent trend, as well as the ongoing shift of the past decade or so to more streamable content through services like Netflix, Hulu, and many others, it's been very difficult to rely on the box office anymore as the best way to gauge a movie's economic success. Sure, "The Suicide Squad" might've seen less audiences in theaters than expected, but it's possible that instead, everyone was at home watching from their couch on the night of the film's release. It's very hard to say. At the same time, Entertainment Weekly reported that the new DC movie "now holds the title as the top-grossing R-rated pre-sale release since the coronavirus pandemic began." There's not really any precedent to base the success of a movie released during a pandemic on. 

With so many mixed signals, it's hard to say that "The Suicide Squad" is a "box office flop" even after looking at the low returns, and Hollywood is slowly learning that the box office might no longer be the best way to decide if a movie is "successful."