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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).

BIRDS OF PREY - Official Trailer 1

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.

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.

Why Birds Of Prey Just Failed At The Box Office

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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9 Comments

  1. I don’t have a problem with females in movies, just fvck off with the feminist brainwashing though. As soon as I heard the movie was about “misogyny”, I was out.

  2. A bit of a contrary opinion, I didn’t see the Ghostbusters reboot because I wasn’t interested in seeing a reboot. Even before hearing it was female comedians in it.

    So, not for me but I would contend it was a success in terms of entertainment and drawing an audience. It drew in a much larger audience then other movies that have gotten sequels and considered successes(John Wick, Pitch Perfect).

    Sure it was a failure from a business perspective- but that seems to be a failure in market research/analysis. That’s the thing that intrigues me about the Hollywood process. Who was responsible for, and how did they determine the authorized budget for production and marketing?

    Certainly a lot of folks out there wanting/willing to see a Ghostbusters reboot. Word of mouth couldn’t have been all that horrible given the numbers of tickets sold. Just not near enough for what they invested in it. Control the budget related to potential audience better and it would have been considered a success from both perspectives – entertainment and business.

  3. Honestly, I suspect the entire “woke” angle is just spin to try and cover for a just plain bad movie. By talking it up as a Super Woke! event, I suspect the directors and producers are just trying to persuade their investors that its really not their fault, honest! It’s just those rubes in flyover country don’t want to watch a female lead movie! See how awesome all the right people in the press think it is? It must be really awesome! Right?

    Also, it’s likely an attempt to get woke audiences to prop up its numbers too.

  4. I agree to a lot here, but I’d argue that BoP WAS a good product. The problems any movie faces at the box office are myriad, but some things just didn’t work in this film’s favor: poor release date (should have been a Summer film?), confusing title (why they didn’t go with “Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey” is beyond me), ads didn’t really present much of the story clearly (who are the “Birds of Prey” really?), hard “R” rating (no kids), overall suckage of DC universe, maybe a bit more breathing room after Endgame, and much more. Robbie is not really a bankable star at this point; she’s undeniably attractive, but hasn’t really proved to be much more than that. In the end, this is an excellent comic book action flick that just didn’t click with the moviegoing audience.

    1. my teen daughter (who’s been a Harley fan for over a decade) dragged me to do this on the advice of her cat (long story-call it Divine Intervention); She loved the movie but I found the script and story utterly incoherent. Put it this way, the best parts of the movie for me was hearing Lover Roller Coaster by the Ohio Players and getting a chuckle as ‘Huntress’ kept getting her tag line ‘stepped on’ by either voiceover narrative or characters in the scene.

  5. Is that shopping cart (pushed by the grinning heroines) full of lotions, soaps and tampons?? You go girls!

  6. I know slamming Leto for his performance in “Suicide Squad” is practically mandatory but if people walked out of that film wanted to see ANYTHING, it was a Joker and Harley flick. How they failed to realize that is where the whole problem started.

    Mike

  7. Am I the only guy who imagined Harley QUinn in Wolf of Wall Street, opening that door the entire movie?

    I watched it just to ogle the chicks. Unabashedly so.

  8. The message was don’t see it because you’re a man. I heard it loud and clear.

    Sexy hot girls usually work.

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