In 2016, Suicide Squad opened to disastrous reviews and absolutely incredible box office numbers. In its first weekend in theaters, that DC Comics adaptation earned $133.6 million in the U.S. alone. Still, the movie did not go over well with many fans, and despite all that revenue — the film ultimately made $746 million worldwide — it took years to figure out how to make the inevitable sequel.

In 2021, the sequel materialized in the form of The Suicide Squad, written and directed by James Gunn. This time, the critics were largely unanimous in their praise; Gunn’s Squad got a 91 from Rotten Tomatoes, compared to the original movie’s 26. But audiences simply didn’t show up for the new movie in the way anyone anticipated. The Suicide Squad grossed $26.5 million in U.S. theaters last weekend. It did not even beat experts’ bearish forecasts that the film would make about $30 million in its opening weekend.

There are several potential reasons for the film’s disappointing grosses. The Suicide Squad is one of the few films this summer that never moved from its original release date during the Covid pandemic. Unfortunately, that meant it finally came out right as cases around the country began to rise again due to the spread of the delta variant. The Suicide Squad was also available simultaneously on HBO Max at no additional cost to subscribers, so anyone who was nervous about seeing the movie in a theater could safely and legally watch it at home for $15. (It’s surely not a coincidence that the biggest opening weekend of the pandemic era remains F9, a movie that you could only see in theaters.)

On top of both of those factors, I don’t think you should discount the fact that even though Suicide Squad made an enormous amount of money, it was widely disliked by audiences. While The Suicide Squad’s marketing tried to make it clear this was a different kind of sequel made by a new creative team, it still featured several of the same actors in basically the same premise — and good sequels often wind up with worse box office results than the terrible movies that preceded it. For example, the awful X-Men Origins: Wolverine grossed $179 million in the U.S., while the far superior The Wolverine made just $132 million a few years later. When customers get burned by one blockbuster, they can be very hesitant to return for the sequel, no matter how good the reviews.

Here was the full top five at the weekend box office:

  1. The Suicide Squad - $26.5 million
  2. Jungle Cruise -  $15.6 million
  3. Old - $4.1 million
  4. Black Widow - $4.0 million
  5. Stillwater - $2.8 million

One curious side note to all of this: While critics loved The Suicide Squad and hated Suicide Squad, opening weekend audiences gave both films the same CinemaScore: B+. There’s no accounting for taste, I guess.

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