DC's Birds of Prey movie has suffered the lowest opening of any DC Extended Universe movie release, and now the DC fandom and industry analysts are trying to explain why. Warner Bros. has gone so far as to change the film's theatrical listing to Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey, in attempt to aid casual viewers in discovering the film in Internet searches, while critics and fans alike have spread positive word-of-mouth through reviews and social media hype. The effort to increase Birds of Prey's exposure has been noble, but late-coming and is still somewhat misguided. Birds of Prey's title change can't fix the film's fatal marketing mistake: ignoring the advantage of its diverse and talented cast.
Warner Bros.' choice to organize Birds of Prey's marketing around Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn was a controversial one, right from the beginning. Hardcore DC Comics fans immediately took umbrage at the fact that the Birds of Prey are a team of Gotham City heroines, whose ranks do not include a villain/anti-hero like Harley. Even fans who accepted the obvious change to the core nature of the team were somewhat disappointed to see characters like Black Canary, Huntress, Renee Montoya, and Cassandra Cain largerly ignored in Birds of Prey's marketing. Outside of the DC Comics fanbase, the studio's approach to marketing Birds of Prey committed a much bigger error: ignoring the obvious wider range of demos that the movie could've been marketed to.
If you haven't noticed, Birds of Prey's cast includes a bi-racial actress (Jurnee Smollet-Bell) who is a breakout hit in the film as fan-fave Black Canary; one of the most iconic Hispanic actresses of a generation (Rosie Perez) as one of Batman's oldest allies (Renee Montoya); and the trifecta of an Asian writer (Christina Hodson), Asian director (Cathy Yan), and young Asian star (Ella Jay Basco). While some trolls write off diversity in film casts and crews as an "SJW agenda," it's hard to argue that it can be fruitful. The Fast & Furious franchise proved just how much box office profit a globally-diverse cast can generate - and in 2020, the current biggest box office winner is Bad Boys For Life, a franchise with two African-American leads and its own new crop of diverse cast and crew members (Charles Melton, Vanessa Hudgens, Paola Núñez, Kate del Castillo, directors Adil & Bilall). It's becoming a clearer and clearer reality in today's film industry that there's a much wider diverse audience looking for representation in the films they see - and Birds of Prey had plenty of it to offer. But in ignoring all the potential visibility of its diverse cast and crew, and centering everything on Margot Robbie and her Harley Quinn character, Birds of Prey effectively snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, when it came to marketing a female-led comic book movie to a global audience.2comments
In that sense, while changing the film's listing to Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey is a good idea from the standpoint of search engine visibility, it also doubles down on the original error the film's marketing campaign made: taking focus away from Robbie' co-stars. As stated, it's now too late to try and explain to casual audiences who Canary, Huntress and the rest of the Birds of Prey are, and why they're worth watching; doubling-down on the Harley Quinn audiences know, is probably the best bet Warner Bros. has. That's a shame for the rest of the ladies who came together and proved just what kind of quality comic book movie they could make, given the chance.
Upcoming DC movies include Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey now in theaters, Wonder Woman 1984 on June 5th, The Batman on June 25, 2021, The Suicide Squad on August 6, 2021, Black Adam on December 22, 2021, Shazam! 2 on April 1, 2022, The Flash on July 1, 2022, and Aquaman 2 on December 16, 2022.