Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is a mouthful of a title, though perhaps on the leading edge of a trend. The year 2021, for instance, will see the release of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. But perhaps long titles are not long for the multiplex. After what is being called "disappointing" box office results, Birds Of Prey changed its title, and will now be known as the far more movie-marquee friendly Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey.
Just before Birds of Prey flew into theaters on Feb. 7, things were looking up for the DC Film universe. Despite the crash and burn of the early interconnected films in the franchise, there was a steady uptick in reviewer response to the more recent films. Though Birds of Prey was technically a sequel to Suicide Squad, and surprisingly leaned into the previous film's chaotic and violent tropes, it is a lot more fun.
With reviews hovering in the 80% range over opening weekend, Warner Bros. Pictures has estimated the film would land in the $45 million box office range. That's not a patch on say, most Marvel films, which regularly cross the $100 million mark on opening weekend. But for a franchise on the mend, it would be more than respectable.
Except it didn't reach $45 million. Domestically, Birds of Prey took in barely $33 million. It's not a flop, per se. Worldwide, the movie took in $79 million, making back almost the movie's entire $84 million budget. But in a competitive marketplace where appearance is everything, Birds of Prey landing the lowest weekend opening of any DC Film (even Green Lantern) was not what the doctor ordered.
It's not surprising producers decided part of the problem is the title. This is a movie starring Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn. She is the main character. And yet, the long and unwieldy title puts her name at the end, so that when shortening in headlines, commercials, and movie marquees, the title reads Birds of Prey, a superhero team of which Quinn is not even a member. The titular "Birds of Prey" are Jurnee Smollett-Bell's Black Canary, Rosie Perez's Renee Montoya, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Huntress, none of whom are household name characters. (In contrast, both of the long Marvel titles coming next year are designed to shorten to the main character's names: Shang-Chi and Doctor Strange.)
Will changing the title help the movie's second-week numbers? Honestly, it can't hurt. It may even help quite a bit when the film moves to streaming on HBO Max later this year. But it's a reminder to superhero films that long comic-booky names can be cute — but always make sure you put the star of the movie first.
Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey is now playing in theaters.