The Rock's Black Adam Box Office Damage Control Is Embarrassing




Image: Warner Bros.
Image: Warner Bros.  

A few days after Variety reported that the Dwayne Johnson-led Black Adam was looking like it was going to fail to return much of a profit-if any-Deadline has come out with a piece stating that the Variety article is wrong, actually, and Black Adam is doing just fine in the box office. The star himself has also chimed in.

"Waited to confirm with financiers before I shared this excellent #BlackAdam news - our film will PROFIT between $52M-$72M. Fact," the star tweeted. "At almost $400M worldwide we are building our new franchise step by step (first Captain America did $370M) for the DC future."

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He then linked to the aforementioned Deadline article, which cites "film finance sources, meaning people who do this for a living and those close to the film," a very peculiar way of framing those sources. After going through the math to explain the modest profit the film would turn, the article additionally cites "merchandise" as a form of back-channel profit in an attempt to sure up Black Adam's potential to make money instead of lose it, which is true... but doesn't affect the dire box office numbers one bit, and isn't really something worth counting in the conversation at all (one that also conveniently doesn't factor things like theaters' cuts of ticket sales, and so on).

But no matter what's true, Variety's reporting or Deadline's, let's really focus on that comparison between Black Adam and Captain America: The First Avenger that both Deadline and Johnson highlight as somewhat nebulous proof that Black Adam's alleged meager profit could guarantee it a sequel. It's bonkers that anyone would look at these two films-released 10 years apart-and assume the millions in question are going to be a one-to-one comparison. Yes, at the time, The First Avenger grossed about $370 million globally, on a budget of approximately $140 million. However, adjusting for inflation, it made around $490 million in today's valuation. Plus, Captain America: The First Avenger wasn't even the highest-grossing Marvel film in 2011-Thor beat it out with a whopping $450 million, which would be nearly $600 million today. So is Johnson saying he, a star much more powerful than Chris Evans or Chris Hemsworth were when they starred in their 2011 Marvel debuts, is on the same level?

What he could mean here is that despite Captain America: The First Avenger only making $370 million, it still spawned two sequels (and counting), each of which did better by a wide margin. Captain America: The Winter Solider made $714 million globally in 2014, and Captain America: Civil War did $1.15 billion in 2016. Like Black Adam, the original wasn't the biggest hit, but it got people interested, and Marvel moved on anyway, reaping the rewards. In that instance, yes, there's some connective tissue between the films. However, while Black Adam was specifically designed to start a new tangent in the DC universe, with the appearance heralding the return of Henry Cavill as Superman and numerous mentions of other Justice League and Justice Society characters, the fact that it's not the third film in the franchise (like The First Avenger was) but the 11th DC Universe film (excluding non-connected projects like The Batman and the Joker) makes its lackluster performance all the more concerning.

If we must play the box office numbers game Johnson and Deadline are willing to play, a more relevant comparison in terms of Johnson's career is 2019's Fast & Furious spinoff film, Hobbs & Shaw. That film, arguably the ninth installment in the Fast & Furious series, stars Johnson as a co-lead, and made a whopping $770 million in theaters, against a $200 million production budget. Now, that film opened in international markets Black Adam didn't, and didn't face a global pandemic, valid points brought up in the Deadline article. But that's still a huge difference if we look at this from the perspective of Johnson's own pull and star power.

In the end, Johnson cares deeply about his film, and you have to genuinely respect that. The man takes pride in his work! But maybe boasting that your film is going to be making just $50 million on Twitter while linking to a dubious puff piece (which, oddly, removed references to potential Black Adam follow-ups without explanation or disclosure-only to be made all the more embarrassing by a late-night report from the Hollywood Reporter yesterday about the future DC movie slate, which flatly stated a Black Adam sequel in fact looked very unlikely, given its poor performance) seems like less of a flex and more like damage control. And doesn't that seem a little meek for maybe the strongest star in all of Hollywood?

Black Adam is available to stream on Apple and Amazon. io9 has reached out to Warner Bros. for comment on Black Adam's financials, and will update this post when and if we hear back.

Additional reporting by Germain Lussier.


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