Aquaman has officially hit one billion at the worldwide box office! Time to play “Ocean to Ocean” on repeat all day long.
I had a lot of water-themed references ready for this moment.
I toyed with the idea of proclaiming Aquaman the king of the seven seas, the king of the box office and the king of the DCEU. I thought about describing Aquaman as riding a tidal wave of success to a billion dollar box office. I even had a slightly NSFW headline involving the word wet briefly cross my mind, and I’m sure it would only take the barest bit of your imagination to come up with it.
But at the end of the day, I pushed aside all the puns for a headline that most closely described my feelings for Aquaman netting that white whale (see, I couldn’t get away from the references completely) of one billion dollars at the box office.
Because after decades of mocking, years of mean-spirited rumors, early proclamations from bloggers and other media sites that Aquaman would never work, or would flop, or couldn’t possibly be any good — Aquaman rose above all of that to become a billion dollar smash at the box office.
And you know what? It’s exactly what James Wan, Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, and all the cast and crew of Aquaman all deserve.
THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart to everyone who has supported this underdog. For making this non-mainstream character (and yes — with leading POC individuals in front and behind the camera!) connect on such a huge global scale. In the words of Aquaman himself, “MAHALO” 🙏
— James Wan (@creepypuppet) January 13, 2019
As of right now, it sits at 1.02 billion dollars worldwide, making it the highest grossing DCEU film ever (as well as the first DCEU film to hit a billion dollars), the second highest grossing DC film (right behind The Dark Knight Rises), and WB’s fifth highest grossing film ever.
In fact, if Aquaman stays particularly leggy through MLK day weekend, there’s a chance that it could sweep over The Dark Knight Rises‘ 1.08 billion gross to become the highest grossing DC film ever.
And while some bitter folks are ready to discount the success of Aquaman for any number of reasons — including, but not limited to: its large international box office, the fact that it was a big budget film, or that people might have watched it but they aren’t talking about it — the indisputable fact is that Aquaman is a win. A tremendous one.
And not just a financial win — though it clearly is that — but a win on a lot of different fronts that have nothing to do with the money.
It’s a win for those of us who have been craving more representation in our superhero films — both in front of the camera and behind it.
It’s a win for Aquaman fans who have long seen one of their favorite superheroes mocked and undersold, who have craved exposure for less mainstream heroes on the big screen.
It’s certainly a win for DCEU fans who have had to put up with an endless cycle of bloggers and critics gleefully declaring Aquaman dead as soon as it was announced, a flop before release, a disaster in the making.
It’s a win for people who love ambitious filmmaking — who want movies to just fucking go for it and swing for fences, even if there are some misses among the hits.
It’s a win for those of us who want to not just see superhero stories on screen, but comic book movies — films that embrace the absurdity and world building and lore of comic book worlds and heroes who have had 50-plus years of adventures between the pages of a book.
But most of all, it’s a win for anyone who likes their superhero movies big, bold, and audacious; for anyone who likes having a great time at the theaters; and for anyone who’s cheering for more superheroes at the box office — because that’s certainly what we’re going to get now that Aquaman has hit that billion dollar mark.
So what does this Aquaman news all mean?
Well, I’m not a box office guru, nor do I consider myself any kind of expert on film or the industry. I’ve never taken a film class, Day After Tomorrow is unironically one of my favorite movies, and I have a very extensive knowledge of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s filmography. I don’t even have a letterboxd account. I’m nowhere near a cinephile — I’m just someone who likes movies in general, and who really likes DCEU films specifically.
With that said, I’ll make a few observations based on my own feelings and chance a few guesses based on what I’ve gleaned from obsessively reading movie blogs and twitter threads.
First off, I don’t think it’s all that interesting to ask why Aquaman was so successful.
I have a few opinions — it was a good movie, it filled the epic movie hole during a holiday season that didn’t have a Star Wars film or big fantasy epic, it appealed to geeks and girls and kids all at once — but at the end of the day, the fact is that it was successful and that’s something we ought to celebrate rather than pick apart and/or criticize.
Secondly, here are some guesses about what this means for Aquaman going forward.
Obviously, we’re getting at least a sequel, one probably centered around Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Black Manta with Randall Park’s Steven Shin likely also playing a major role. James Wan will almost certainly direct — I assume the only reason they haven’t announced a sequel already is because they’re deep in contract negotiations. James Wan deserves anything he wants for giving WB their first billion dollar DCEU film and they’d have to be idiots not to give it to him (which I’m not completely discounting — I’ve been witness to their many, many, many blunders).
I’m guessing that this won’t be the last time we see Patrick Wilson’s Ocean Master either, and for that I’m incredibly glad. He was fantastic in this movie and I was so happy that he wasn’t killed off at the end. Patrick Wilson has stated that he hopes for some kind of redemption arc for Orm, and that’s what I hope for, as well — and an arc that the creative team could definitely look to the comics for.
However, even with the sequel confirmed — maybe even trilogy, because there are certainly more than enough stories to mine for that — I could see James Wan waiting a little bit to start filming the next Aquaman movie. Studio blockbusters are huge time commitments and burdens for the individual director, and Wan himself has said how tiring the constant pressure and scrutiny of Aquaman has been.
And, you know what? I’m all for waiting a bit. We have Shazam and Elseworlds Joker this year, Birds of Prey and Wonder Woman 84 next year. Let’s give James Wan a well-deserved rest before he blows our mind with the sequel(s).
Finally, here are some thoughts — not so much predictions as much as a wishlist — for what Aquaman’s success hopefully means for the DCEU.
First, I hope WB sees the success of Aquaman and realizes that less popular characters deserve a time in the spotlight and that people of color deserve more time in front of the screen and behind it.
This is less of a hope and more of a promise, as we’re set to have Cathy Yan direct Birds of Prey with plenty of POC in the cast and Ava DuVernay direct New Gods, which I’m nearly positive will likewise have POC in leading roles.
And while I know it’s probably too much to hope for at this point, I do still find myself wishing that this success puts to rest — at least for a little while — the popular narrative of either rebooting the DCEU or whether this film or that film will save the DCEU.
Because newsflash: the DCEU has made nearly 4.8 billion dollars worldwide with its first six films. It doesn’t need saving.
Finally, even though I know it’s a popular take to have, I don’t think Aquaman’s success means more serious or “grimdark” (a word which I detest because it’s so frequently misused) superhero movies have no place on our screens.
Instead, what I hope WB takes from Aquaman’s success is that its movies shine the most and the brightest when they allow their directors to have full creative control.
See, once upon a time, the DCEU was supposed to be a director-driven cinematic universe and it’s the movies in which WB has actually allowed that to be the case that have been the best.
The DCEU’s biggest failure was Justice League, which was hampered by WB’s obsessive need to micromanage and dilute the vision of their auteur director of choice. Its meddling in both Suicide Squad and Batman V Superman allowed an inferior cut to premiere in theaters, while its relatively hands-off approach to Wonder Woman and Aquaman brought about great success.
So let us hope for the future that WB takes the right lessons from Aquaman’s billion dollar box office and continues to give us unique, ambitious, fantastic comic book movies that are stamped with each director’s individual style.
But for now? Let’s all celebrate Aquaman’s well-deserved success and put “Ocean to Ocean” on full blast while we do just that.
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