Last weekend, DC Comics' "Justice League" opened on more than 4,000 movie screens. It was projected to sail past the $100 million mark at the domestic box office, but fell short of that benchmark — and earned less than the $122 million that Marvel's "Thor: Ragnarok" raked in just two weeks before.
In theory, "Justice League" should have helped solidity Warner Brothers' expanded universe in a way that competed more forcefully against the juggernaut created by Marvel's "Avengers" franchise. After all, "Wonder Woman" earned the second-highest U.S. gross of the year at $413 million, while "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" earned $330 million at the domestic box office in 2016, and all of those characters appear in "Justice League."
In practice, however, the relative disappointment with "Justice League" has raised questions about how well other related films like "Aquaman", "Shazam" and a "Batman" standalone picture can fare.
Meanwhile, DC/Warner aren't the only ones experiencing growing pains with ambitious franchises. Earlier this year, Universal Studios made its first foray into a "Dark Universe," a franchise meant to re-introduce such classic movie monsters as the Wolfman and Frankenstein to contemporary audiences.
Yet in June, its flagship "The Mummy," featuring Tom Cruise, earned an anemic $80 million at the domestic box office. Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan, who were the architects of "Dark Universe," left the project in November — leading entertainment reporters to write unofficial eulogies for the entire project in their wake.
In response to an inquiry from CNBC, a Universal representative said the studio is "still on track, and viewing these films as filmmaker-driven titles."