Kicking off a precarious year for DC films, Shazam: Fury of the Gods was more like Shazam: Mildly Vexed of the Kittens at the box office, with a $30 domestic million opening, the lowest ever for a DCEU film. According to Deadline the film made only $655 million worldwide, down from a projection of $85m.
Deadline offers all kinds of analysis of why it missed the mark, but suggests it being a lame duck unconnected to larger DC cinematic narrative is part of the problem:
Shazam’s inability to fly at the box office has largely to do with the fact that there’s no want-to-see among core DC fans in regards to this sequel. It’s not part of a connective tissue in the DC universe, nor was it ever, and that’s a problem that DC Bosses James Gunn and Peter Safran are looking to fix. They’ve been very public about laying out their new multiverse, and it was never made certain that Shazam would be a definite part of their “Chapter One, Gods and Monsters,”
The exclusion of Shazam has taken away the sheen from what should be a standalone, crowd-pleasing movie.
Indeed, the first Shazam, based on C.C. Beck’s delightfully comedic superhero masterpiece Captain Marvel, landed as a lighthearted comedy amid the studio stress and underlit sets of the Snyder years. Four years later, without a weighty slate to balance it out, Shazam 2 is just light. (I’ve seen neither film, BTW.)
Still, Shazam 2 wasn’t a very expensive movie – a mere $125 million budget – so maybe it will still earn out? According to Deadline’s Anthony D’Alessandro, due to marketing costs, “I’m told by those in the know that it will be pretty tough to get Shazam! Fury of the Gods in the black.”
And of course, this wouldn’t be a DC film without some behind the scenes drama, in this case, whether the Shazam franchise was dealt a mortal blow by Duane Johnson’s Ahab-like quest to make a standalone Black Adam movie.
You see, Black Adam was the main villain of the Shazam/Captain Marvel comics, debuting all the way back in the first issue of The Marvel Family back in 1945. You’d think maybe tying the films together might make some kind of sense? I mean, what would Kevin Feige do? And yet Black Adam had nary a connection to any of the Shazam stuff, with the films developed separately. And thus we ended up with TWO separate movies with two SEPARATE characters with lightning bolts on their chests and vaguely mythological backgrounds…and no crossover.
Now granted, this charge that insisting on a standalone Black Adam killed everything, is mostly from twitter, but Heroic Hollywood has an excellent rundown of the mean tweets in a story called “Dwayne Johnson Accused of Killing Both ‘Shazam’ & ‘Black Adam’ Franchises: ‘Blame Dwayne’s Big A– Ego’”
The title says it all, really, but a few choice bits. The #1 witness for the prosecution? Johnson himself, in a tweet confirming a story that he had blocked Black Adam’s appearance in Shazam!
Original script had both #BlackAdam #Shazam establishing their origin stories in one film. I fought hard for both characters (+ JSA) to have their own stand alone films for the fans to enjoy.
And protect Black Adam’s ruthless & extremely violent tone as we build out #DCEU https://t.co/KFrokn5Tjn
— Dwayne Johnson (@TheRock) August 15, 2022
“Original script had both #BlackAdam #Shazam establishing their origin stories in one film,” he wrote back in ’22. “I fought hard for both characters (+ JSA) to have their own stand alone films for the fans to enjoy. And protect Black Adam’s ruthless & extremely violent tone as we build out #DCEU”
Again I haven’t seen Black Adam either (disclosure: I’m not on WBD’s screening list), but it did seem to have a more adult tone so maybe spinning that out of Shazam would have scared children. But, again, cinematic superhero crossovers are one of THE hottest trends of the 21st century, so maybe it could have worked. You’ll recall that Johnson’s dream to make the Black Adam film lasted 15 years, and bridged all of the headspinning changes at the DCEU with a single minded mission. He often called it his passion project.
Despite the ties to the characters history, Johnson is said to have had “disdain”, for Shazam, though even director David F. Sandberg (who made both Shazams) had his doubts that keeping the two separate was the right idea.
The thing about Black Adam is that he has the same powers as Shazam, and we did that in the first movie where we gave Sivana [Mark Strong] the same power. So I don’t think the fight itself would’ve been super interesting, but I do think it’s a missed opportunity. What makes the most sense is to have them fight each other, so it’s money left on the table. But it’s how it is.
Now curiously, in the same interview, Sandberg reveals that some JSA characters from Black Adam WERE to have appeared in Shazam 2, but that didn’t happen. Instead [SPOILERS] Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland) and John Economos (Steve Agee) from THE Suicide Squad show up – as does Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and a headless Superman.
You’ll recall that the Superman cameo in Black Adam did have a head – Henry Cavill’s, in a surprise appearance that the studio fought all the way, only to have Johnson basically force it in.
So yeah. Just another day at the DCEU.
If anything, Shazam 2’s lackluster performance shows just how unpredictable 2023 is going to be for WBD, with three more films coming out, two of them long ago shot and delayed by a year. Blue Beetle (August 18th) will almost certainly be a smallish opening, but The Flash could go either way – advance buzz for the film is very good – and Aquaman 2 is a Holiday tentpole (but advance word on that is not great.) A lot is riding on how The Flash can set up the new “Gods and Monsters” film slate. And Zachary Levi’s Shazam is not entirely out of the question for future appearances. Sandberg again:
What [DC Studio’s co-heads James Gunn and Peter Safran have] said is that what we’ve done in these two Shazam movies doesn’t contradict anything they’re doing with their new plans, which is great. It means that you could do Shazam movies if you wanted to. We’ll see how that all works out.
And of course, the actual movie, box office aside, has gotten generally positive reactions. In the comics crowd, Gail Simone liked it, and so did Jerry Ordway. And surprisingly, Mark Millar has been a big supporter.
Go see Shazam today. Seriously, it’s terrific. We took my two youngest last night and they both said it’s the best comic book movie they’ve ever seen. They just absolutely loved it. It’s exactly what I was needing too. Just a big fun likeable night out at the pictures!!
— Millarworld (@mrmarkmillar) March 18, 2023
When all is said and done though, perhaps Shazam: Fury of the Gods will be remembered for one thing: it left Helen Mirren with a crooked pinkie.
Helen Mirren shows off the finger she broke while doing stunts for #Shazam: Fury of the Gods!⚡️😯
“Can you see how bent that one is? This one’s nice and straight, and then this one’s my Shazam finger.” pic.twitter.com/9NyUSHreH0
— Shazam Updates (@ShazamNews) March 18, 2023
Shazam finger. C.C. Beck would have loved that.