Wonder Woman 1984, whose trailer debuts today, will be DC Films’ first conventional sequel and won’t have to face the questions of competence and commercial viability that plagued the first Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman 1984 finds itself in an interesting spot as it unloads its first teaser trailer just under six months before its June 5, 2020 release date. The first teaser for Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman debuted during the San Diego Comic-Con in July of 2016, and it offered a kind of “hope against hope” pitch after the disappointing reception of Batman v Superman. By the time it opened in June of 2017, DC Films was banking on the World War I-set action fantasy to rejuvenate interest in the brand after Suicide Squad landed with an artistic (if not commercial) thud. Oh, and Wonder Woman was intended to be a “test case” for whether big-budget comic book superhero movies fronted by a female superhero could stand alongside the dude-centric superhero movies. Wonder Woman earned rave reviews, white-hot buzz and ridiculous legs, earning $412.5 million domestic and $821 million worldwide.
In the 2.5 years since Wonder Woman, two shifts have occurred. First, we no longer obsessively debate as to whether a big-budget comic book superhero movie with a female superhero can do big box office. Wonder Woman earned $821 million on a $150 million budget. Captain Marvel earned $1.126 billion on a $150 million budget. Even Alita: Battle Angel, which was sold entirely on the appeal of Rosa Salazar’s title character, earned $405 million worldwide on a $170 million budget. It wasn’t quite a hit, and a sequel is still a long shot, but it certainly did a hell of a lot better than the likes of Mortal Engines, Jupiter Ascending, Ghost in the Shell and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Few expect Cathy Yan’s Harley Quinn-and-friends spin-off Birds of Prey to be anything other than a solid commercial win when it opens on February 7, 2020.
The other core change is that DC Films is no longer a critical whipping boy. It’s no longer chasing the dream of an MCU-style cinematic universe, and it has been on a winning streak, specifically among solo superhero flicks, since the first Wonder Woman. Say what you will about Batman v Superman ($873 million), Suicide Squad ($745 million) and Justice League ($659 million), but Wonder Woman, Aquaman ($1.148 billion on a $165 million budget), Shazam! ($363 million/$90 million) and Joker ($1.051 billion/$63 million) have all been critically acclaimed and well-liked commercial hits. While we were all hoping and praying that Jenkins’ first Wonder Woman would be at least half-way decent and an okay hit, we’re all expecting the best for and from Wonder Woman 1984. That’s partially because Wonder Woman 1984, which gives us Diana versus the Cheetah during the Cold War, is DC Films’ first conventional sequel.
Batman v Superman wasn’t quite Man of Steel 2, and Justice League, certainly in terms of how the Zack Snyder/Joss Whedon hybrid came together, wasn’t just a sequel to Dawn of Justice. Even Birds of Prey is something of a spin-off, or, well, spin away, from David Ayers’ Suicide Squad. But Wonder Woman 1984 is an old-fashioned sequel. Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman was a well-liked hit, so Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot are giving us a second Wonder Woman movie. No course correction needed here. That makes it, oddly enough, the first straightforward sequel out of nine DC Films movies going back to Man of Steel in June of 2013. Different isn’t better or worse, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s ninth film was Guardians of the Galaxy, an original within a franchise that already had three Iron Man movies, two Thor flicks and two Captain America movies.
Wonder Woman 1984 will be quite different compared to the various DC Films flicks that preceded it. It’s a direct sequel to a previous entry, one that has the expectation of artistic and commercial success, and the benefit of the doubt that comes with prior artistic and commercial success not just of Wonder Woman but of the solo DC Films flicks that followed it. Yes, there will be pressure to perform, but there will also be a presumption of quality that wasn’t extended to the first Wonder Woman (which partially led to premature concerns related to the volume of marketing or questionable product tie-ins) or even, relatively speaking, for Shazam! and (faith in James Wan notwithstanding) Aquaman. The only relative peril, presuming it’s at least decent, is Wonder Woman 1984 only grossing, in North America, about what was expected from the first film.
Heading into the summer, the general consensus was that Wonder Woman would hopefully open with around $90 million and then leg it to around $260 million in North America, which would have put it behind Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ($389 million) and Spider-Man: Homecoming ($334 million) in summer 2017. It earned 4x its $103.5 million debut, becoming the leggiest “opened on a Friday” $100 million-plus opener. I’m hesitant to presume Wonder Woman 1984 will be a breakout sequel, although it checks off every box (a predecessor with great reviews, strong word-of-mouth, long legs and room to grow). I’d expect its overseas numbers to jump a little from the perfectly solid $408 million cume, including $90 million in China. First, many sequels make less domestically but more overseas than their predecessors. Second, China’s newfound love of DC/Marvel superhero movies could give it a kick in the butt overseas.
But for now, DC Films and Warner Bros. can bask in the current glow of a DC Films franchise that has arguably righted itself or at least remade itself as a brand that doesn’t have to break records or support a cinematic universe (the “ultimate edition” of Batman v Superman has aged well as an Elseworld and a sadly prescient political parable for the 2016 election) every time out of the gate. Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is the movie that started their winning streak, and as such, the sequel’s first trailer is akin to a victory lap. Wonder Woman 1984 is their first straight-ahead sequel, and it will arrive in a moment where no one doubts the drawing power of female Marvel/DC superheroes, that a female-directed superhero blockbuster can kick unholy amounts of cinematic butt or that a big DC Films flick will probably be pretty darn good.