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The Weekend Movie Takeaway: Shazam!

April 8, 2019

DC's latest superhero movie Shazam! opened to healthy numbers at the box office over the weekend, earning $53 million dollars in its first full three days in theaters.

Warner Bros. must be breathing a sigh of relief, considering the risk of releasing Shazam! in between what are sure to be the two biggest movies of the years: Captain Marvel (which released last month) and Avengers: Endgame, coming out on April 26th. And in case it needs to be mentioned—they're both superhero movies as well.

That the audience showed up to embrace Shazam! speaks to the overall narrative righting of the DC ship that began with December's Aquaman. Like its predecessor, Shazam! is set in the overall DC Extended Universe featured in films like Justice League and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,  but it doesn't go out of its way to set up future spin-offs or incorporate the larger DC world. 

Up until these last two films, Warner Bros./DC had been chasing the Marvel model of super-interconnectedness. It's also a model that Marvel/Disney has made look extremely easy, but as DC's stumbles in the last few years have proven, creating an overall narrative vision that makes sense across multiple films is no small feat.

By shifting away from the Marvel methodology with Aquaman and Shazam!, DC has released two of their most well-received movies in years, and the future of the DCEU looks bright for the first time in forever.

The success of Shazam! also speaks to audience goodwill for family-friendly narratives like Big, which has been a touchstone for Shazam! in both the production and marketing of the film. It's a good reminder that spectacle isn't the major draw for films like this—story is.

The other big new release over the weekend was a new version of Stephen King's classic 1983 novel Pet Semetary, which was previously adapted into a film in 1989 and successful enough then to generate a 1992 sequel. The new Pet Semetary arrives at a time when there is a massive studio resurgence of interest in Stephen King adaptations following the insane success of It.

The new Pet Semetary earned a respectable $25 million in its opening weekend, showing the renewed interest in King adaptations isn't just being felt on the studio side of things—the audience is also excited to see more big screen King.

King has long reigned as the most famous storyteller of modern times, and market enthusiasm for his work bodes well for narrative overall. When it comes to the primary sources for big mainstream movies, King's books place much more emphasis on storytelling than say, a popular toy or piece of nostalgia-driven intellectual property.

STX's historical drama The Best of Enemies about school integration in the ‘70s starring Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell also opened over the weekend, earning just $4.5 million to place sixth. The middling result speaks to the difficulty of gaining traction with a historical drama that isn't earning massive critical raves. Although hardly a white savior film (Rockwell plays the Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan), some critics have taken issue with the simplistic nature of how the story is told; much the same as criticism levelled at Green Book.

Although that film won the Best Picture Oscar, its reception is representative of how critics and audiences are looking for a little more nuance in stories about this country's history of racial inequality.

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