Aquaman 2's Box Office Should Teach DC a Crucial Superhero Lesson
It’s time to return to earnest, campy superhero films.
Say what you will about recycled villains, gross-out gags, or Jason Momoa’s disturbingly beige contact lenses, but Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom still makes for a great time at the movies. The rest of the world seems to agree, as the DC film has finally hit its stride at the international box office. The Lost Kingdom raked in an impressive $400 million worldwide after three weeks in theaters, effectively recovering from its debut slump.
Pundits were similarly surprised by the success of Aquaman. No one expected the 2018 film to have a huge impact, yet it remains DC’s highest-grossing movie. It’s unlikely The Lost Kingdom will reach the same billion-dollar heights, as it’s still trailing behind recent DC disappointments The Flash and Black Adam. But it’s also one of the few films released in 2023 to surpass $100 million domestically, which counts for something. At the very least, it should signal the return of a lost Hollywood trend.
Even if The Lost Kingdom doesn’t rise much higher than it already has, Warner Bros. and DC still have something to learn from it. The Aquaman duology is the black sheep of the now-defunct DCEU, but it’s also one of the franchise’s most unlikely success stories. The films belong to a different era, one where comic book adaptations veered a bit sillier. The only details that truly place these films in the last few years are their inclusive cast and impressive visuals. Otherwise, they subscribe to a very 2000s method of filmmaking.
That seems to be why the Aquaman films resonated strongly with audiences. Director James Wan’s take on Aquaman would feel more at home in Joel Schumacher’s whacked-out DC universe than Zack Snyder’s. The former was not well-received upon its debut, but time has been much kinder to Schumacher’s campy Batman and his benippled Batsuit. Yes, it was very silly, but it’s that silliness that audiences seem to miss 20 years later.
Aquaman doesn’t veer into quite the same territory as its noughties-era predecessors, but it’s definitely a change from the dour superhero films that Snyder, Christopher Nolan, and the Russo brothers established in their wake. Those films also have their own merits, of course, but there’s a sense that audiences are hungry for something different. One aesthetic doesn’t need to replace the other; comic book franchises benefit from a healthy variety of tones.
Aquaman and The Lost Kingdom gave fans a respite from the doom and gloom, as have DC films like Shazam! and The Suicide Squad. There’s clearly an appetite for more diverse storytelling in some of our biggest franchises. Hopefully DC won’t lose sight of that as it attempts to reinvent itself.