The failure prompted Warner Bros to shake up the team in charge of DC movies and galvanized an earlier decision to de-emphasize the interconnected nature of the films. The massive success of last year's "Wonder Woman," which was only loosely connected to other DC movies, also drove that decision.
Now, "Aquaman" can test whether Warner will score another hit with a solo superhero movie.
"I think 'Aquaman' is a really important movie for them, and if the China box office is any indication, they've got a mega-hit on their hands that could play well into 2019," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.
"Aquaman" drummed up nearly $94 million in its opening weekend in China — making it Warner's best Middle Kingdom debut to date. With a 74 percent "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it is also the best-reviewed movie in the DC universe behind "Wonder Woman."
Analysts say "Aquaman" is also getting a boost from DC's choice to cast Jason Momoa in the lead role. The Hawaii-born actor is a fan favorite who had his breakout role as barbarian chieftain Khal Drogo in HBO's hit fantasy series "Game of Thrones."
"There's no better brand ambassador for DC and 'Aquaman' than Jason Momoa," Dergarabedian said. "He's everywhere. He's so excited. I think you can tell, and I think that's infectious."
Forecasting indicates that "Aquaman" will earn about $65 million at U.S. theaters over its opening weekend, and potentially hit $100 million during the full five days leading into Christmas, which falls on a Tuesday this year.
Holiday weekend openings make comparisons difficult, but that would be a very respectable premiere for a live-action superhero movie. "Wonder Woman," Warner's biggest DC hit at U.S. theaters to date, earned $103 million during its opening weekend.
Christmas releases also tend to have legs because many Americans see several movies during the holidays, says Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com.
"I think Aquaman is in that position to open at $60 [million] but still earn $200 to $250 domestically," he said.
That would put "Aquaman" in a league with other solo superhero movie successes like Disney's "Doctor Strange" and Twentieth Century Fox's last Wolverine sequel "Logan." But it would fall short of the total U.S. box office haul for breakout hits like "Wonder Woman" and "Deadpool."
A survey of movie-goers by BoxOffice.com found that 83 percent of them that saw the "Aquaman" trailer are interested in seeing the movie. That compares to 88 percent for Sony's "Venom," which ultimately debuted to $80 million in October.