‘Black Adam’ Proves Dwayne Johnson’s Strengths and Weaknesses as a Box Office Draw

“Black Adam” star Dwayne Johnson congratulated Marvel Studios for its big weekend, with a $331 million global launch of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” — but Marvel’s triumph is his film’s loss. “Black Adam” ticket sales dropped a steep 56% in its fourth weekend, to $8 million, and decline that’s likely to continue given the strong word of mouth for “Wakanda Forever.”

While “Black Adam” crossed the $150 million domestic and $350 million global milestones this weekend, that’s not going to be enough to turn a profit on a $195 million blockbuster that was accompanied by an expensive global marketing campaign. Even if the somehow inched its way to the $400 million worldwide mark, “Black Adam” will fail to get out of the red.

For Johnson, “Black Adam” was an attempt to leave a lasting mark on the DC Universe and turn the antihero Black Adam into a major pop culture figure the way new DC Studios chief James Gunn turned the Guardians of the Galaxy, another lesser-known set of characters from the comic books, into icons of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Instead, the film has laid bare the strengths and limitations of the former professional wrestler’s drawing power as a movie star.

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On the one hand, there’s no doubt that Johnson’s immense fan base helped draw interest in “Black Adam.” As we noted in our analysis of “Black Adam” and fellow October release “Ticket to Paradise” on their opening weekend, a survey of moviegoers held by Comscore/Screen Engine’s PostTrak showed that 44% said they bought opening day tickets to “Black Adam” primarily because Johnson was starring in it — as opposed to 39% who bought a ticket because it was a DC movie.

There is a section of Johnson fans who will turn out for anything that he is in, and it was a major reason why “Black Adam” posted the first $50 million-plus opening the box office had seen in three months and why the actor’s 2021 Disney film “Jungle Cruise” was able to pass $100 million domestic despite coming out during the early stages of the movie theater reopening process.

But as global returns sagged in the following weeks amid mediocre buzz, Johnson’s reach with general audiences fell short. At this point, “Black Adam” will likely finish with a global total that is only slightly higher than the $365 million earned in 2019 by “Shazam!,” a much more lighthearted DC film about the superhero Black Adam is most associated with in the comics. Tellingly, Johnson asked DC to distance his version of Black Adam from the “Shazam!” universe so his film could tease an upcoming showdown with Superman, played by the returning Henry Cavill in a mid-credits scene.

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The big difference between those two films? “Shazam!” had half the production budget of “Black Adam” at a reported net price tag of $100 million. As a result, “Shazam!” got a sequel that will be released next spring. A “Black Adam” sequel, at least at a $200 million budget, is far less likely, especially considering how Warner Bros. has been cutting costs left and right following its merger with Discovery last spring.

It’s possible that “Black Adam” could have turned a theatrical profit had the film gotten a release in China and Russia, where Hollywood no longer has a foothold due to geopolitical tensions. Matching the $200 million Chinese total that Johnson’s “Fast & Furious” spinoff “Hobbs & Shaw” earned in 2019 might have been unlikely, but that market certainly would have allowed “Black Adam” to clear the break-even point with some breathing room.

Johnson’s profile as a movie star may be enough to keep him in the DC fold as new bosses James Gunn and Peter Safran begin laying out their vision for the franchise, but it is difficult to see the studio greenlighting a sequel with another $200 million budget after these kinds of results.

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