Warner Bros. learned this past weekend that Birds of Prey, otherwise known as Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), isn’t exactly search engine optimization (SEO) friendly. The sequel of sorts to Suicide Squad barely made a dent in the box office due to many marketing issues involving the film, and, as a result, Warner Bros. has changed the name of the movie to Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey.
The title change appeared last night on ticket sites for major theaters. A Warner Bros. representative told The Verge that the name change is part of a “search expansion for ticket sites,” making it easier for people to find the movie. Adding Harley Quinn’s name to the beginning of the title also gives moviegoers a better understanding of what Birds of Prey is about, an issue the movie has faced in recent weeks.
Birds of Prey’s opening weekend wasn’t the success that Warner Bros. had planned for a movie about a popular DC character being portrayed by Margot Robbie. The film only generated $33 million domestically, coming up short against investors’ $50 to $55 million projection. The low box office return came as a surprise to industry insiders who noted that Birds of Prey was one of the best-reviewed DC movies in recent years, earning high scores on Rotten Tomatoes.
So what went wrong? One industry executive with knowledge of the matter referred to the rollout as a disaster. Like a domino effect, a few things went wrong at once: bad marketing, bad trailers, and bad title decisions.
A few trade publications have compared Birds of Prey’s rollout to Fox’s terrible marketing of the X-Men installment Dark Phoenix. Like Birds of Prey, Dark Phoenix didn’t have “X-Men” in it. And for people who might not be aware of Jean Grey’s character, Dark Phoenix looked like a random sci-fi movie, not the final chapter in an X-Men series. The poor marketing and heavy criticism the film received led to a major box office bomb, only generating $65 million domestically. Disney CEO Bob Iger even referenced the film’s box office failure in a call with investors, pointing to it as a reason the studio division of Disney’s company took a hit that quarter.
Harley Quinn is an extremely popular character with major name recognition, much like Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman, and Joker. The decision to forgo using her name in the first place baffled industry members.
What’s unclear is how much of the lengthy title came from Warner Bros. and how much of it was a creative decision from director Cathy Yan. The studio has been criticized for swapping out names on directors in the past: director Doug Liman originally wanted to name his 2014 action movie starring Tom Cruise Live Die Repeat, but Warner Bros. went with Edge of Tomorrow instead. Much like Birds of Prey, the film was considered a financial disappointment despite the critical acclaim it received. Liman insisted part of the reason was the generic-sounding title Warner Bros. decided to go with. The marketing for the film eventually emphasized “Live Die Repeat” as a tagline.
It’s not just the title, though. A person with knowledge of the situation also noted that none of Birds of Prey’s trailers explained what the film was about. Instead of leaning into the R rating and releasing a series of redband trailers (like Deadpool and Amazon’s The Boys did), Birds of Prey’s trailers played it safe. Normally, that would be fine, but Birds of Prey is a movie that works because of its utter ridiculousness and R-rated qualities. To not show off that side of the film in the trailers and marketing leading up to its release is seen as a failure by many in the industry.
At the end of the day, Warner Bros. is trying to fix its rocky rollout with a new SEO game plan. There’s a good chance that Birds of Prey can find more success over the next few weeks: there’s little competition at the box office, and with Harley Quinn at the front of the new title, there’s a better chance people will know what Birds of Prey is about.