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Media Gaslighting 101: Rescuing ‘Birds of Prey’ from Reality

Film reporters broke out their pom poms … again … this month.

We saw this four years ago when the gender-switch reboot of  “Ghostbusters” hit theaters. The media acted like unofficial press agents for a comedy which cost its studio north of $70 million.

Long story short: The media campaign didn’t work.

Now, the same film writing community it trying to pull the wool over our eyes for another female-driven feature.

The film in question is “Birds of Prey.” Margot Robbie reprises her role as Harley Quinn, leading a team of badass female heroes against the wicked Black Mask (Ewan McGregor).

Superhero movies make coin, period, no matter their quality. Consider the opening weekends for the following films, all of which lacked the universal name recognition Batman, Spider-Man and Superman enjoy.

  • Venom (2018) – $80 million
  • Suicide Squad (2016) – $133 million 
  • Shazam (2019) – $53 million
  • Ant-Man (2015) – $57 million
  • Black Panther (2018) – $ 202 million

Now, here’s what “Birds of Prey” earned in its opening weekend against virtually no competition of consequence – $33 million. Those are terrible numbers, and you can’t spin the truth any other way. Box office predictions had the film opening at $50 million, too.

Tell that to select film scribes, who have spent the last week spinning hard for the film.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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The most overt example comes courtesy of ComicBook.com. The site attempts to rewrite box office history to show us “Birds of Prey” isn’t a flop.

When a studio changes a movie’s name after its opening weekend, as is the case with “Birds of Prey,” you’ve got a problem. Don’t tell that to ComicBook.com, which ignores basic Hollywood realities in its defense.

The film made around $81 million globally during that first weekend, a sum that either recouped or came close to recouping the film’s budget depending on what budget figure you use, meaning anything beyond that could arguably see the film in the green.

A film’s budget is just part of a studio’s fiscal responsibility. Marketing and advertising campaigns combined often equal those production costs. Remember “Ghostbusters?” The 2016 film earned $229 million worldwide from a $144 million budget. Yet Sony lost $70-plus million as a result of its box office performance.

The author then connects “Birds of Prey” to “Ford v. Ferrari,” an absurd comparison.

In the case of Ford v Ferrari, it’s opening weekend was described as “racing to first place” or as a “strong” opening with $31 million domestic while Birds of Prey had distinctly negative phrasing with words such as “disappoints” and “went astray” with its slightly better take of $33 million. Similar budget, both are smaller films with an action-oriented slant (though Ford v Ferrari features cars rather than brawling), Ford v Ferrari even had something that Birds of Prey did not have in the way of major star power with Christian Bale and Matt Damon in starring roles. One can even argue that they are both niche films yet Ford is praised for its modest box office take while Birds of Prey is sneered at for the same dollar amount.

Apples and oranges? Try cherries and watermelons.

ScreenRant.com acknowledges the film’s poor start, but the site says there’s still hope for the film’s box office fortunes. For example, a PG:13 rated version of the film could draw a bigger crowd. Having an R-rating didn’t stop “Joker,” “Logan” or the “Deadpool” films from crushing the box office competition, though.

RELATED: Roeper Says Critics Graded Lady ‘Ghostbusters’ on a Curve

It’s also worth noting that film scribes dropped their pom poms for “Joker,” arguing the film could inspire violence wherever it played.

That didn’t happen, but it did snare a Best Picture nomination and the crown for the highest grossing R-rated movie in history.

The far-left Uproxx.com bemoans “Birds of Prey’s” box office fortunes, but then attempts to cancel an outspoken comic book creator for noting the film’s lack of sex appeal may be partly to blame.

Reliably liberal Forbes.com movie columnist Scott Mendelson attacks the usual suspects in trying to deflect from the harsh box office realities.

No, despite what some dudes on the Internet might tell you, the underwhelming performance of uh, Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey is not an example of Hollywood taking it on the chin for offering gender parity and/or onscreen diversity, an alleged trend that is often referred to as “get woke, go broke.”

More spin. Audiences aren’t turned off by on-screen diversity. Just consider the gobs of cash “Fast & Furious” movies make or the recent “Bad Boys for Life” threequel. They are turned off, though, by woke marketing. And the track record proves it.

Over at the far-left Vox.com, we’re told the film’s disappointing tally is a blow toward “more representation” in the superhero ream.

That ignores “Catwoman,” “Elektra,” “Supergirl,” “Captain Marvel,” “Wonder Woman,” the upcoming “Black Widow” plus a crush of high profile superheroines on the small screen (“Jessica Jones,” “Supergirl,” “Batwoman” and more).

Still, the Vox piece gives away the game. Reporters are treating “Birds of Prey” like a political candidate they need to protect. They think the film’s success might change Hollywood, and when it dramatically under-performed they’ve resorted to full spin mode.

Quality is the ultimate game changer. Director Patty Jenkins delivered a dizzying smash via “Wonder Woman,” and the film didn’t need a gaggle of gaslighting articles to save it.

The film spoke for itself. The sequel, out later this year, may do the same.

Want equality in Hollywood? Cheer on the good product, tell the truth and audiences will take care of the rest.

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