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Box Office: Can ‘Suicide Squad’ Survive Bad Reviews for Record-Breaking Weekend?

Well, at least it’s better than “Batman v Superman.”

The critics are weighing in on “Suicide Squad,” and based on the initial reactions, it’s a pretty emphatic thumbs down.  It’s still early, of course, so it’s possible that other reviewers could look more favorably on the story of a team of villains who are tasked with doing covert missions for the U.S. government.

 IndieWire’s David Ehrlich decried Suicide Squad” as “mundane, milquetoast, and often mind-bogglingly stupid,”  the Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips branded it a “headache of a movie,” and BuzzFeed’s Alison Willmore dismisses the picture as “frankly disastrous.” Needless to say, these are not the kind of notices you splash across a poster.

There were outliers, to be sure, such as USAToday’s Brian Truitt, who praised it as “excellently quirky,” and fanboy sites have been more positive.

Regardless of the frosty critical reception, “Suicide Squad” will annihilate the competition when it debuts across 4,200 theaters, destroying records for an August release with a $125 million to $140 million launch. No matter where it falls on that spectrum, it will rank as the biggest ever debut for Will Smith, nearly doubling “I Am Legend’s” $77.2 million bow. Pre-sales have been brisk, with  “Suicide Squad” already outpacing the likes of “Deadpool” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” according to Fandango. The question is will audiences agree with critics?

In the case of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” their tastes seemed to align, with moviegoers handing the superhero film a mediocre B CinemaScore rating. The film opened to an enormous $166 million, only to plunge nearly 70% in its second weekend, as poor word-of-mouth dragged on ticket sales and the critical flambéing took its toll.

Whereas “Batman v Superman” was panned for being too dark and self-serious, “Suicide Squad” is intended to be the antidote to all that doom and gloom. Its posters are day-glo, its characters insouciant, and its tone winking. Warner Bros., which has been trying to create its own in-house answer to Disney’s Marvel juggernaut by using DC Comics characters, is betting that the film can reinvigorate its superhero franchises. The studio spent $175 million to make “Suicide Squad,” which is intended to pass the baton to a “Justice League” adventure and a “Wonder Woman” movie, allowing Warner Bros. and corporate parent Time Warner to reap a fortune in t-shirt and toy sales.

“They need to show that their films are must-see events like Marvel’s are,” said Eric Handler, an analyst with MKM Partners. “If audiences don’t like this one, it makes it tougher and tougher for the next films they make. These aren’t cheap, so they can’t afford for these movies to be anything less than successful.”

In addition to Smith, Warner Bros. turned to acclaimed director David Ayer to oversee the mayhem. He is best known for his work on gritty war thrillers such as “Fury” and the cop drama “End of Watch.” They also festooned the cast with other bright talents, bringing on Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and Jared Leto as the Joker.

“Suicide Squad” isn’t the only new release slated to hit theaters. In a bit of counter-programming, EuropaCorp will go after the family audience with “Nine Lives,” a comedy about a harried executive (Kevin Spacey) who gets transformed into a cat. The $31 million production should open to $9 million. At the very least, that should set a new record for a film with Spacey as a talking feline.

When it comes to “Suicide Squad,” Warner Bros. will have its global promotional team out in force. The film will hit 57 markets, including such major territories as Australia, Russia, France, Korea, Brazil, the United Kingdom, and Mexico. That should add more than $100 million to its worldwide haul.

These are big numbers, but a lot is riding on the film. For most of the last decade, Warner Bros. was the envy of its big studio rivals. With Harry Potter, the Dark Knight, and the Lord of the Rings in its arsenal, it had largely cornered the market on blockbusters. Alas, all of those series have come to an end. Over the last three years, the studio’s fortunes have changed, and it has endured a bruising period at the box office, with “Jupiter Ascending,””The Legend of Tarzan,” and “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” among its costlier duds. “Suicide Squad” could mark a return to form for the studio, paving the way for more costumed hits to come and demonstrating that the company has figured out how to create comic book movies that appeal to the masses.

“DC Comics has pieces that have potential, but they haven’t coalesced yet,” said Shawn Robbins, senior box office analyst at BoxOffice.com. “The execution hasn’t been there.”

By tapping a band of crooks and anarchists, DC and Warner Bros. may be able to turn things around.

‘Suicide Squad’ Members: Who’s Who

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