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'The Flash' flops as Warner Bros Discovery faces 'tough challenge' to reset DC films

Warner Bros. Discovery's (WBD) "The Flash" bombed at the box office in its three-day opening weekend, securing just $55 million in its domestic debut and missing modest expectations of $70 million.

It's a disappointing result for WBD CEO David Zaslav, who had long championed the film in early showings while also stressing the company's DC revamp.

"DC is the biggest value creation opportunity for us," Zaslav said in February, directly referencing "The Flash" film, in addition to the new "Superman" and "Batman" movies set for release in 2025.

Yet the franchise has clearly struggled compared to Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe — which could be a case of consumer confusion that has taken hold as filmmaker James Gunn and producer Peter Safran reset DC.

Ezra Miller arrives at the premiere of
Ezra Miller arrives at the premiere of "The Flash" on Monday, June 12, 2023, at Ovation Hollywood in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP) (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

"Everything that could go wrong essentially did go wrong at the box office," Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Box Office Pro told Yahoo Finance Live on Tuesday. "A lot of industry buzz led into higher expectations, especially going into summer, but it ended up that reviews, word of mouth and just general consumer confusion about the DC franchises really worked against the film."

Late last year, Zaslav revealed filmmaker James Gunn and producer Peter Safran were close to finalizing a "bible" when it comes to the future of the DC franchise.

"Part of our strategy is drive the hell out of DC," the executive revealed during a conversation with RBC Capital Markets analyst Kutgun Maral. "It's one of the biggest opportunities at this company."

But the DC reboot has left moviegoers in a state of limbo, according to Robbins, who called out the disjointed nature of the DC movie universe.

"In general, there has been a lack of continuity for general audiences to follow in the way that they have with Marvel films...[Movie watchers] don't know how to react to each of these movies," the analyst explained, referencing "Shazam's" equally disappointing debut in the spring. "What the franchise needs is a break and as much of a clean slate as possible. Warner Bros. needs to allow James Gunn, Peter Safran and DC to really go back to scratch essentially, [but] it's going to be a tough challenge."

Robbins added there will likely be continued consumer confusion over the next few years, but that it'll ultimately come down to the quality of the movies over time.

Is Pixar out of its 'element'?

Disney's
Disney's "Elemental" flops at box office (Courtesy: Pixar)

Disney's Pixar film "Elemental" also struggled to deliver box office results, notching a mere $29.5 million domestic debut over the weekend— the worst opening in Pixar's 28 year history.

"This is similar to DC as it's a tough road back [for Pixar]," Robbins said, noting the studio's recent struggles.

Last summer, Pixar's "Toy Story" prequel "Lightyear" also fell short of expectations, securing just $51 million in its domestic debut before going on to gross a dismal $118 million in theaters ahead of an expedited Disney+ release.

More recently, the animated film "Strange World," starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Dennis Quad cost the company a reported $200 million after it opened to dismal reviews during Thanksgiving week, marking one of the worst flops of 2022.

He added Pixar's return to its glory days will take some time, especially as Disney's target audience — parents in particular — came to expect that they could see these movies at home on Disney+.

Disney shares were off about 1.5% on Tuesday following the box office results, while Warner Bros. Discovery stock sank about 5%.

Alexandra Canal is a Senior Reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @allie_canal, LinkedIn, and email her at alexandra.canal@yahoofinance.com

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