After the unexpected success of Suicide Squad, with most of the credit attributed to Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, Birds of Prey opened in February 2020 as a spinoff movie featuring the twisted story of Harley Quinn. Suicide Squad got bad reviews from the critics but went on to do very well at the box office. Did Birds of Prey do the opposite?
In the opening scene, Harley is heartbroken with her breakup with Joker, while feigning she is quite over it. With tears and laughter, Margot go on and blow up a chemical plant and steer us in tears and laughter through the movie as she narrates the stories, as only she can.
With the news of her breakup with Joker making it around Gotham city, it is open season for Harley with many evil villains wanting to settle scores as she’s no longer under Joker’s protection. Leading the pack is Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor as Roman Sionis ), Black mask and Gotham’s most narcissist crime lord villain and his right-hand Zsasz (Chris Messina).Figure 1Source: DC Movie: Birds of Prey: The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
Unprotected and on the run, Harley Quinn fight back and team up on her way with Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Dinah Lance, the Black Canary), Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Helena Bertinelli, The Huntress) and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya) to take on Roman and save a young girl Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco as Cassandra Cain) from Roman. In the process, Harley and her unexpected allies realise they don’t need protection as they are as strong as any of Gotham’s villain.
While the Birds of Prey bring together three other DC superheroes, this female led action movie is really about Harley. As a lovable sociopath, the movie follows Harley as she blows up chemicals plant to announce her break up with the Joker, gets drunk, dance and face the villains who are after her. While the film has lots of violence, shootings, guns, drinking and some drugs, it is styled as a wild ride, funny and entertaining movie. Harley come up walking after being thrown from a car and no dramatic music when somebody is shot dead. We are not far from an animated cartoon show!!
In addition to solid performance by the cast, Matthew Libatique and Darren Aronofsky are to be praised for the movie cinematography with the smoky look for Gotham City. Erin Benach, costume designer, initiate another makeover for Harley costume. Far from the iconic cartoon red and black jumpsuit look, Harley Quinn costumes are playful, punk rock and in line with the persona of suicide squad with sequined blazer, pink sports bra, and blue track shorts. This colorful vibrant costume design is carried throughout the movie with golden jumpsuit, more sparkling blazers and even a Marilyn Munroe inspired pink dress, reinterpreted as a pink jumpsuit.
The movie opened on February 7, 2020 taking $33 million at the North America Box office for its first weekend. With a production cost reported to be between $80 and $90 million, the movie was expected to open at least between $45-$50 million. Suicide Squad for example had an opening weekend of $133 million, although its production cost was reported to be $175 million, almost twice Birds of Prey budget. Wonder Women opened to $267 million at the box office and had a production cost of $120 million. Even Shazam with a production cost of $100 million opened with $53 million.
By end of February, Birds of Prey has grossed $75 in North America and $103 in international territories for a total worldwide earning just under $180 million. In its fourth weeks, the movie is battling for fourth place with low earnings in the $4 million range. Still the movie won’t be considered a major financial flop and may still reach the $200 million mark and probably break even, although it is far from the financial success that was anticipated.
The disappointing box office figures were a surprise for this DC movie as the movie got over 80% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes for example. In this #Metoo era, female superheroes like Wonder Women or Captain America are resonating with a large audience and generating huge box office success. Not to mention that Birds of Prey was produced, written, and directed by women and the cast is led by women.
Harley Quinn though is not a superhero; she is a comic book icon with a loyal fan base. She had made numerous appearances over the years in Batman comic books and movies. She is part of DC Super Hero Girls, the 32 episode animated action–adventure television series now available on Netflix. An adult animated TV show Harley Quinn also opened on November 2019 with an average rating of 8/10 and was renewed for a second season set to premiere in April 2020.
Critics attributed the disappointing showing of Birds of Prey to wrong strategic decisions, high among them is the R-rating of the movie which limited its potential audience. While Deadpool R-rated movie was financially successful, there is no doubt that a R-rated movie can lead to lower box office revenue than PG-13 rating as teenager cannot view the movie on their own and they aren’t going with Mom and Dad to watch this movie.
This was particularly problematic for Birds of Prey who’s screening scored highly with the Teen crowd. The movie had almost no nudity but lots of swearing but could have been easily re-edited for a PG-13 without giving much away. February opening was another problematic issue, as February is usually known for low movie attendance with audience catching up on Oscar nominated movies prior to the Oscar’s event.
While the movie is meant to be empowering women movie with girls in power and shaping their futures, some questioned the type of empowerment this is meant to be as Harley goes from night club to violent scene, some time drunk, some time high, sympathetic but rarely the role model anybody would aspire to be.
Still this movie is entertaining, funny, and very creative on many scores. Will it affect the sequel of Suicide Squad 2? We hope not. Suicide Squad is intended to be a standalone sequel to Suicide Squad, scheduled for release in August 2021 with Jared Leto set to reprise his role as the Joker and Margot Robbie as Harleen Quinzel. Ironically Suicide Squad got hammered by critics’ reviews and did very well on the box office and financially. Birds of Prey seem to do the opposite.