In considering what the final DCEU film, Aquaman 2, may make later this year one can find a basis for guesses in analogies with other comparable films — and application of these to what might be expected for it on the basis of the original Aquaman.
An obvious starting point is how major superhero franchise films have been doing lately — with and without the China market over which so many question marks hang (and which was so important to the first Aquaman movie’s success).
At one end of the spectrum Guardians of the Galaxy 2 made $864 million at the global box office — which comes to $1.07 billion in May 2023 dollars. Without China’s $100 million in ticket sales it comes to more like $948 million.
Guardians of the Galaxy 3 is likely to finish up with not much less than the original in current dollars — about $850 million. Without China the figure is more like $763 million. The result is that the film’s gross is, in China’s absence, about a fifth down, and this the best any such movie seems likely to do these days.
At the other end of the spectrum Black Panther 2 made just over half (53 percent) of what the original Black Panther did in real terms. Exclusion from China was a factor, but even when we set China aside the movie still made just 58 percent of what the original did.
So let us assume that in the best-case scenario the movie makes 80 percent of what the original did outside China, in the worst-case scenario, just 60 percent.
Meanwhile let us consider the film’s prospects in China. In the worst case the film will not come out there at all, but should it come out one may take the Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man franchises as suggestive of the range. In China Guardians of the Galaxy 3 did, if less well than elsewhere, relatively well by the standards of Hollywood in China these days, taking in 70 percent of what Guardians of the Galaxy 2 did. By contrast Ant-Man 3 took in just 30 percent of what Ant-Man 2 did there.
In May 2023 dollars Aquaman took in $1.04 billion outside China. It also took in $350 million in China, for a take of nearly $1.4 billion overall.
The most positive scenario, with 80 percent of the non-China gross, and 70 percent of the China gross, of the original, would come to a $1.09 billion total take (less than a quarter down from the original’s gross).
The least positive scenario within the range discussed here would come to more like $730 million (scarcely half what the original made).
Round for the nearest fifty million, and you end up with a range of $750 million-$1.1 billion, with, splitting the difference, somewhere around $900 million the middle of the range.
If a significant comedown from what might have been hoped from the strength of the original’s reception, this would probably be the best gross of any superhero movie, or any live-action movie, this year. However, just as this kind of calculation was (as I warned back in April and as has since been amply confirmed) overoptimistic in the case of Indiana Jones 5 (which conventionally should have been a safe bet for a billion-dollar gross given the performance of prior entries in the series), given the headwinds it faced (which have all too clearly mattered), so it may be with Aquaman 2 — given very poor buzz about the quality of the film, the way the DCEU seems to be going less than gracefully, the poor impression made by the overhyping and the disappointing reception of The Flash. Indeed, just as I warned about the possibility of a Solo-like collapse on the part of Indiana Jones 5, so does it seem worth warning about the possibility of a similar collapse in the case of Aquaman 2. Just as Indiana Jones 5 now looks like it will struggle to make forty percent of what might have been normally expected for it (and Aquaman 2’s preceding DCEU universe, The Flash, looks as if it is doing the same) Aquaman 2, instead of the circa $900 million that could be expected for it amid the lowered expectations of today’s global box office, could likewise find itself falling short of the half billion dollar mark, and even the $400 million mark.
To sum up: in May 2023 dollars, a likely range of $750 million-$1.1 billion, $900 million as the figure I think most likely assuming a “normal” run, with, not to be forgotten, a real prospect of collapse seeing it make less than half that (<$400 million) in these not-so-normal times.