The following article contains spoilers for Justice League. Do not proceed unless you have seen the film, or don’t mind being spoiled.
Justice League is finally here and while many fans love it, mainstream moviegoers have been slow to embrace it. The film opened with an estimated $96M in North America over the weekend, the lowest opening ever for the DC Films universe and a $70M drop from the opening weekend of JL‘s most direct predecessor, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Some may still try to sound the “EVERYTHING IS OKAY” alarm, but the disappointing performance of Justice League has to raise questions about the future of DC movies at Warner Bros. Not asking tough questions and taking time to find the right answers would be fiscally irresponsible. Those questions and answers could mean trouble for one of the most exciting moments in Justice League, its post-credits scene.
All it took was a partial silhouette of a single character for fans who made it into last week’s world premiere to know what was coming and start cheering. Deathstroke (Joe Manganiello) was making his DC Films debut and meeting with a freshly (and illegally) liberated Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). Those who saw Justice League in theaters this weekend probably heard their own round of applause when Luthor proposed that he and Deathstroke start a league of their own.
As post-credits scene go, this one immediately feels like an all-timer. It tells us to get ready for a battle between the heroes of the Justice League and the villains of the Injustice League (or Legion of Doom, if you prefer). The superhero genre hasn’t seen an all-star team-up of marquee villains since Batman (Adam West) battled all of his most popular baddies in the 1966 movie based on the Batman television series. It certainly hasn’t happened in the modern era, nor have we ever seen a team of headlining villains against a team of headlining heroes in one movie. Even Marvel Studios hasn’t tried that yet.
DC Films could be the first to pull off the WWE Survivor Series of superhero movies, if another Justice League movie is coming in the near future, but that’s a big “if” right now. This has nothing to do with what fans, critics, or even I think of the film (I liked it). This is about the cold, hard numbers and they don’t have anything good to say right now.
The dismal opening weekend of Justice League suggests that mainstream audiences literally are not buying what DC Films is selling. Aquaman will still be out next year with a Wonder Woman sequel following in 2019. The Batman will still get made and perhaps Shazam still heads into production, but outside of those projects, there are no guarantees.
Justice League is going to have to show off some really strong legs at the box office in the coming weeks, or that post-credits scene will go from “remember when” to “what might have been.” It wouldn’t even be the first time this decade that Warner Bros. added a tag to the credits of a DC movie that ultimately went nowhere. We never did see Sinestro (Mark Strong) leading his Corps after slipping on that yellow ring during the credits for Green Lantern.
The best chance we might have at seeing this plot line continue is the proposed Deathstroke movie. That film, if it ultimately gets made, could at least keep the conversation going in case Warner Bros. eventually feels confident enough to try another team-up. Since Deathstroke has the chance to be something very different from what Warner Bros. and DC have offered thus far, that could shield it against any internal JL backlash. Even then, however, there are no guarantees.
The moral of the story here is that if you liked Justice League and want a sequel featuring the Injustice League, you better go watch JL again and bring a friend, or several. This all boils down to money, the only thing that can keep the Injustice League out of the superhero movie phantom zone inhabited by Sinestro and Master of the Universe‘s Skeletor (Frank Langella), who never came back.