Top 10 Reasons Birds of Prey Flopped

Today I’m about to talk about a movie. It’s just a movie, right? No need for everyone to get worked up over something so simple as we count down to the biggest reasons this movie under-performed at the box office. Right?!

Before we get into that, be sure to subscribe to Comic Island for more Top 10 videos concerning all things comic books.

I do also want to point out that I do like this movie, overall, even I have issues with it. That’s why we’re here, actually. I think it’s interesting that a comic book movie with such promise didn’t do so well, because if we examine why that it is, we get to look at factors that influence a movie’s success beyond its quality. I do also want to point out that while bombed is a loaded term, there’s a lot of evidence showing at the bare minimum, Birds of Prey didn’t do as well as it should have. The numbers behind budgets and box office returns should be considered carefully and can’t be simply summarized with Wikipedia numbers that are estimates which don’t include the marketing budget. Regardless, when all is said and done, the impression I get is that Birds of Prey, at best, just barely made a profit for Warner Bros. post-home release.

So it wasn’t some record-breaking failure, but it did lead to some theatres re-titling how this movie shows up on some of their ticket sales formats, which is very unusual and I’ve never heard of a movie do that before. The numbers and this behaviour is quite surprising for any sort of comic book movie, and no matter how you cut it, this movie didn’t do that well. And I want to examine why.

Number 10

Worldwide Events and Timing

Warner Bros. was a bit unlucky in that world events we do not have to talk about right now seriously depressing audience attendance in Asian markets. There’s not much one can do about that, it is a factor in life, and it should be noted things were very different in comparison to now where the movie would be impossible to release. Beyond that, I do think releasing the movie in February was a bit of a mistake regardless. That might work for a movie like Deadpool, but Harley Quinn is a different sort of character than Deadpool and I think this movie would have worked better in a summer release. A lot of people I know were more interested in movies attached to the Academy Awards around this time of the year, for example, and thus, when I think about my day-to-day conversations at the time Birds of Prey was out, I heard more about the Joker movie released months before than I did anything about the Harley Quinn one still in theatres.

Number 9

Sonic the Hedgehog

Meanwhile, Sonic the Hedgehog came out a week after Birds of Prey and knocked the latter to second place almost immediately. There’s lots of reasons for this but the biggest is the whole first trailer debacle and nightmare design of the original Sonic led to the movie accidentally getting a ton of free press and leaving very little breath for the Birds of Prey movie in comparison. By all accounts Sonic is a lot of fun, even if I haven’t bothered to see it. It makes sense that it just sort of won the day at the box office given this, and it meant bad news for Birds of Prey. And while nobody could have predicted somebody approving this animation, Birds of Prey was always going to have to compete against something, and in this case, for reasons we’re kind of delving into in the rest of this video, it came up short. It also really undermines the excuse of world events I had just mentioned, since Sonic did much better in the same month at roughly the same time.

Number 8

Margot Robbie and Harley Quinn

It breaks my heart a little bit to learn just how much Margot Robbie was involved in making this movie a thing. She’s clearly a big fan of Harley Quinn and wants to make all these movies for the character, including solo films and even the Gotham City Sirens, the latter being what everyone really wanted. But with her signed on and very much on board to do all these things already, Robbie wanted to make a Birds of Prey movie first to help introduce some of these cool characters and get people excited about them. That’s admirable as hell, and given that these characters are Black Canary, Cassandra Cain, Renee Montoya, and the Huntress, I am hardly complaining!

However, while I very much enjoyed the Birds of Prey, I found I really just don’t care all that much about Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. Maybe it has something to do with her design or her costumes, or even Robbie’s specific performance quirks, but outside of a handful of scenes in Suicide Squad, this character doesn’t work for me, and feels like the weakest link in Birds of Prey.

It’s really hard to dislike a true fan of Harley Quinn putting her all into the role, and it blows my mind how many of these stunts are actually Margot Robbie performing them. She actually gives a damn about her performance as a comic book character and its really refreshing compared to a lot of other actors. Sadly, I’m not sure Robbie has quite captured what I like about the character. When we compare it to the recently premiered and amazing animated Harley Quinn series, I find Robbie’s Quinn to be very lacking when compared to Kaley Cuoco’s take on the same character. Everything about this show is what Harley Quinn in the DCEU should be – irreverent, deeply R-Rated, funny as hell, and genuinely insightful about a character recovering from abuse. And that really holds me back from fully embracing Birds of Prey which frankly – isn’t nearly as funny or fun.

Number 7

Superpowers and Originality

While I’m sure some critics are going to be snobby about this, you’ll have to forgive me for wanting a little more superpowers out of my superheroes. Don’t get me wrong, giving superpowers to the many characters that never really had any powers in the comics would have been ridiculous, but for crying out loud, Black Canary is standing right there! This movie does the thing I’m getting SO tired of where a character’s cool power might be hinted at but only gets revealed at the end – and while I get why this was done, it means Black Canary gets to use her powers properly once, they show it in the trailer, and I just knew that was going to be the case the second I saw it show up in said trailer.

It’s also not a surprise – Black Canary’s powers are one of the first things anyone who learns anything about the character is going to know. Once again, I just don’t get it. I very much get the need to scale things back for more street-level heroes like these, but I really think there was a better balance that could have been achieved in this regard, and it feels like this movie comes up a bit lacking. For all the praise that critics gave this movie, it is surprisingly generic in how it handles superhero stories like this, the story arc of Harley getting over the Joker, the story of Cassandra becoming this big target the whole city is after, the story of how Renee is a cop who cares too damn much, the story of Black Canary getting out from under the thumb of Black Mask and making her own way in the world – these are all stories we’ve seen before, without any major change or twist to them.

The only one that’s actually distinct is the Huntress, who they actually subvert her story pretty well. She’s supposed to be the revenge girl, but it’s subtly made clear she’s new to all of this and in over her head over time. I found that aspect of her great. But again, it wasn’t enough.

Number 6

Lack of Nostalgia

I think on some fundamental level, people look at this poster and probably recognize exactly one character. They might guess who the rest of these people are depending on their familiarity with the comics, but I bet even a lot of die-hard comic book fans would have trouble instantly recognizing everyone here. Also, it’s absolutely a failure of DC to have excluded Batgirl from this movie. They did it because they wanted to make a solo Batgirl movie later, but there is so much wrong with this all at once I don’t even know where to begin.

First, if that is the case, then there was no point in making a Birds of Prey movie at all. Batgirl or bust. Second, there is more than one Batgirl out there, such as one of the characters in this movie! And finally, I still don’t understand why this movie couldn’t introduce Batgirl, which would probably only serve to make the later Batgirl movie more interesting since it could get the introduction out of the way, Black Panther style.

But no, we got no Batgirl, no comic book costumes, and villains that barely resemble their comic book counterparts, and even when they do it is only in a very limited sense for a very limited time. And it’s not like the villains are coming back, either. Thanks for wasting two of my favourites, movie. Nostalgia isn’t necessary for a comic book movie to be successful, sure, and it absolutely can be overused, but Birds of Prey so thoroughly stripped itself of any comic book content it took away any possibility of getting the true push of DC fans it could have.

Number 5


So I hate the look and feel of this movie. The phrase “Hot Topic” is frequently used to describe the look of characters in both this movie and Suicide Squad, and the phrase is appropriate. This is also subjective, sure, but it’s not like this is some contemporary style and I’m the one out of touch. I don’t know much about fashion but this whole design of costumes do not work for these characters. Harley’s is is the perfect example of over-designed – the dog collar labelled Bruce, the frills made out of police tape, the large amount of piercings and accessories – too much thought is put into how a character dresses that should be pretty thoughtless.

I’m not saying Harley is dumb, but I am saying she is sloppy. Her brain is a mess and her life is a mess. That’s actually reflected in the writing of her character, and even the design of her apartment, but the design of her outfit feels out of place. These outfits look meticulously designed and crafted, which doesn’t work with the character as presented or in the comics, not really. Then we get to the Huntress. I get not giving her that weird crown thing, it’s certainly out of place with this movie, and I get making her dress more tough and serious, given her character and again, the nature of the movie. But given all that, why does she have a tie-die shirt and a sparkly-shiny trench coat? It fits the rest of the movie’s looks but feels wildly out of character with the overly touch character who I just don’t see making such fashionable choices.

I like Black Canary’s outfit but maybe not for the right reasons, and in comparison, Renee and Cassandra look great, simply because unlike everyone else they are dressed in normal-people clothes appropriate to each of their characters. I mean I would rather Cassandra look like this, but I’ll take what I can get at this point. I just don’t get the design of these characters, and I have trouble I’m imagining I’m the only person that feels this way.

Number 4

Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad gave no end of baggage to poor Birds of Prey. Not only was it a rough note to follow-up Harley Quinn’s character with, but it forced Birds of Prey to dance around the Joker in a movie all about Harley’s feelings for the Joker. It also, for whatever reason, had a huge effect it seems on the lighting and design of sets in Birds of Prey. I don’t know why anyone would want to draw on Suicide Squad as a sort of blueprint for any sort of comic book movie, but DC did and I think on some fundamental level, between the return of Harley Quinn and these movies looking very similar, both relying heavily on that sort of “hot topic” over-designed attitude that Birds of Prey suffered from as discussed earlier. I think enough people liked Birds of Prey with Suicide Squad to really held the audience back from rushing into theatres for this particular film.

Number 3

Word of Mouth

While Birds of Prey isn’t a bad movie, I really don’t think it was the kind of movie that left people excited and eager to tell their friends to go and see the movie. We talked about it’s humour and Robbie’s performance as Quinn, but I found the whole cast pretty lacking. Black Mask and Victor Zzsazz had potential, but I don’t really feel like their characters really got to do anything meaningful. Meanwhile, Black Canary didn’t really do all that much for me – we’ll get into more why that is a little later. I like what they did with the Huntress but I have a lot of issues with her.

The way the Huntress is set up to be this rage monster – I feel like every joke around her was very dated. “I DON’T HAVE ANGER PROBLEMS!” – that joke feels old, and I’m very sure I heard some variation of it from the early days of the Simpsons 30 years ago. This movie had an awful lot of humour in it, and I was disappointed at how little I laughed. We already talked about a lot of my issues with the design of her and others costumes, as well.

So that pretty much left me with just Renee Montoya and Cassandra Cain. Both of whom were pretty great but only get so much time in an ensemble cast movie like this one. I also simply do not understand the point of having Cassandra Cain in a movie without even the slightest hint of Batgirl. The movie makes a lot of these choices that I just don’t get, and at a certain point – things compound. Too many of these weird choice, in my eyes, didn’t come together into a strong enough emotional experience to really drive and audience in that key way you need for word of mouth to work in a movies favour. When Deadpool came out, it really blew people’s minds. Everyone was talking about it, so everyone went out to see it. I asked around – most of my friends had no real concept of when this movie came out or what to make of it.

That’s a failure on several levels, which ties into every problem in all ten points here. In interviews following this film’s lackluster release, the director of Birds of Prey claimed that her movie was too risky for current audiences. I think that’s a pretty wild opinion, unfortunately. If anything, I would say Birds of Prey wasn’t taking enough risks. That they did too many things other comic book movies do and not enough of the more risky things it should have been doing to begin with.

How can this movie possibly be considered risky when everything is so watered down compared to the comics and even TV series? For example, in general, Harley always has two hyenas, but in the movie, she has one, that barely does anything. Probably because CGI is relatively expensive and Bruce was the only expensive source of CGI across the entire film. Deadpool was a somewhat risky movie, and got people talking. Birds of Prey, quite simply, did not pull in the same sort of interest. It reflects how I feel about the movie, too. I like it, but I don’t really consider it some sort of crowning achievement in comic book storytelling. I don’t have a lot of eager reasons to recommend this film. And mediocrity, while not bad, is hardly all that exciting.

Number 2

The R-Rating

This thing I found, by far, most interesting about Birds of Prey is that you can tell just by watching it carefully, that it was clearly filmed in a way that it could have easily been made either PG or R depending on what Warner Bros. felt would have been more successful. It’s a weird attitude in designing a film and leads to a sense of tone I’ve never quite seen before. Most of this movie feels PG, with relatively tame action and violence that only sometimes gets gory in key scenes and shots that could have been easily altered or cut. It is thus by far the most bloodless R-rated film I have ever seen. And while there are a good enough number of swears, they are rare and again, only would need the slightest of modifications to remove from the film entirely. This movie didn’t want to know what kind of movie it wanted to be, on several levels, and that led to a serious level of miscommunication.

It’s not a great sign I watched this movie and then had to check what it’s rating actually was because I had so much trouble telling. It was not at all self-evident from the posters or ads I saw, leading to confusion at the theatre and even giving people the wrong idea about this movie, affecting their decision of even wanting to seek it out. And if you fail to adequately communicate the most basic nature of your movie to your prospective audience, well, that’s a colossal failure of one, and only one thing, and brings me nicely to –

Number 1


Though Birds of Prey is hardly the worst example of movie marketing in film history, it’s certainly the biggest problem behind the film. We got a trailer that didn’t do a great job at representing the movie in question for several different reasons. They don’t do a good job at conveying what comic book characters are in the movie. They don’t tell us much about what the story is about, but they do show a scene that spoils the already stupid Black Canary reveal. Everything was wrong with this movie’s marketing. I’m also not sure it was marketed nearly enough, given, like I said earlier, how few of my peers even knew when it came out or even the fact that it had come out to begin with.

While the dregs of the world will try to make the failures of Birds of Prey into something its not – implying the fact that it features ladies while desperately hoping we somehow forget all of these movies made plenty of money – the failure of Birds of Prey really comes down to a failure in marketing and the final product not being strong enough to drive audiences on its own. There are multiple paths to success this movie could have taken – word of mouth, big ticket marketing, or even comic book nostalgia, yet systematically, one by one, Birds of Prey eliminated any possibility of those routes of success being open. It’s a real “death by a thousand cuts” situation – where anything that could have helped the movie was held back just enough to not bring in the audience it could have.

So there you have it. That’s the story of how a great idea turned into a decent movie which turned into a big ol’ flop. Fun times! To be fair, recent talk has suggested the movie might even get a sequel, so it clearly wasn’t that bad, financially, and I think that’s a good decision. Everything we talked about here feels like it could easily be addressed and improved on, and most importantly, maybe we can finally get Batgirl! Oh, no, apparently we’re supposed to get Poison Ivy. <SIGH> Has nobody at Warner Bros. ever heard of the Sirens? Next up in the world of our Top 10s, we’re going to take a loot at some of issues common to a lot of event crossovers from both Marvel and DC. So stay tuned for that, and thanks for watching Comic Island!

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