James Gunn has unofficially replaced Zack Snyder as the golden boy of the DC Extended Universe. The Suicide Squad made history on Thursday as the highest-grossing R-rated film released during an active pandemic, besting Funimation’s Demon Slayer: Mugen Train last year and Universal/Blumhouse’s The Forever Purge on July 2 by at least $300,000 on opening night. The Margot Robbie starrer earned $4.1 million on its premiere, Deadline’s Anthony D’Alessandro reports.
James Gunn has accomplished the impossible. He gave DC Films and Warner Bros. their first blockbuster hit since Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman enraptured audiences in 2017. Both movies scored a 93% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with The Suicide Squad maintaining the edge with a whopping 89% (over Wonder Woman’s 83%) from fans. And the numbers continue to rise.
It’s only been opening night; The Suicide Squad is expected to decimate its competition this weekend, with a projected gross of $30 million in the United States alone and $70 million worldwide. Not only that, James Gunn surpassed the Marvel Cinematic Universe entries that launched his career, with Guardians of the Galaxy at 92% and Vol. 2 at 85%. The Suicide Squad is, by all accounts, the best film Gunn has ever made.
It’s a rip-roaring breakthrough for the DC Extended Universe. The franchise has suffered successive misfires since debuting with Man of Steel — to mostly negative reviews — in 2013. Warner Bros.’s superhero movie-verse is a classic case of “jumping the gun”; the studio attempted a big ensemble in the style of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, only to fall flat on its face with a film that desperately required more buildup. The DCEU’s biggest budgeted flicks, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and the theatrical version of Justice League, fared even worse, with fans and critics left grievously divided. Zack Snyder’s Justice League was a step up, but its four-hour runtime and excessive slow-motion did little to help its case.
The original DCEU is ending with Snyder getting blacklisted from Warner Bros. and Andy Muschietti rebooting the franchise with Flashpoint in Ezra Miller’s The Flash. Hardly a win for Snyderverse stalwarts. Admittedly, fractured management had effectively sabotaged the Snyderverse, without which Snyder’s vision may have prospered; after all, the Watchmen director made Army of the Dead with Netflix only recently and it was a galvanizing success.
Still, this makes The Suicide Squad’s box office and critical performance all the more significant. Warner Bros. needed a fresh start to accompany its new direction, and who better to take over than James Gunn, himself a master world-builder with a solid track record? The Guardians of the Galaxy director has become the reboot DC Extended Universe’s breakout star, managing to turn the franchise on its head after years of heedless misadventures.
The cast and crew of The Suicide Squad have been raving incessantly about the creative genius of James Gunn, one of the few directors Warner Bros. allowed to fully realize his vision. Producer Charles Rogen, who worked on Batman v Superman and The Dark Knight, recalls Gunn’s methodical approach to storytelling with awe. “He storyboards every single shot in the movie,” Roven explains. “Not just the action sequences.” John Cena, who plays Peacemaker, adds: “This is what happens when you leave a brilliant man alone with his thoughts.”
Besides The Suicide Squad, the only other times Warner Bros. didn’t interfere with production was James Wan’s Aquaman and Zack Snyder’s Justice League; no surprise, considering both movies were generally well-received. DC Films president Walter Hamada has only praises for James Gunn. “Gunn is always welcome back, whatever he wants to do. He really has a vision and he’s a great partner with us. Whenever he wants to come back, we’re ready for him,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday. “He’ll be back. We have more stuff planned.”
The Suicide Squad’s box office performance has clear precedent, however, believe it or not. David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, now critically reviled, earned $133.7 million domestically on its opening night, still the highest number documented so far. Obviously, the concept of charming, dispensable misfits resonates with audiences, regardless of the visionary headlining it. James Gunn himself credits Suicide Squad creator John Ostrander for the enduring pop-culture success of both films. “This movie could exist without any of us here. There is one person it wouldn’t exist without… That is John Ostrander,” Gunn told audiences on Thursday. “He is the man that deserves all the accolades.”
With The Suicide Squad finally wrapped up, James Gunn returns to Marvel to complete the Guardians of the Galaxy’s solo trilogy. His predecessor, David Ayer, has been actively campaigning for the release of his cut of Suicide Squad, which Gunn has already verbally supported. “David is an extraordinary filmmaker and an extraordinary human being,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter’s Brian Davids on Thursday. “So I have his back, but he had my back from the beginning. When it was announced that I was making the movie, he came out immediately in support of me. So he’s really been the gracious one, and we’re very similar in that way, I think.”
The Suicide Squad is currently out in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.