Note: I don’t link to the YouTube videos referenced in this article because they don’t deserve more attention.
Sonic The Hedgehog and Birds Of Prey are at the center of an online right wing culture war. The two movies and their respective box office performances have inspired many YouTube videos, many of which lambast Birds Of Prey and praise Sonic The Hedgehog. In the case of Birds Of Prey, many of these YouTubers make a Herculean leap claiming that the Cathy Yan directed Harley Quinn movie underwhelmed at the box office in part or entirely due to its feminist themes. Yes, really.
Sonic The Hedgehog is a different matter altogether. In terms of the Sega video game speedster, YouTube’s gaming contingent are claiming that Sonic’s live action debut succeeded because director Jeff Fowler listened to a fan backlash regarding Sonic’s original uncanny valley character design. In Sonic The Hedgehog’s initial trailer, the normally cute blue fuzz ball was reminiscent of a horror movie monster or how I look upon exiting a hot shower, and in response to the character design’s online pummeling, Fowler and Paramount decided to overhaul Sonic’s appearance, making him more inline with the games which the fans responded to enthusiastically.
Now that both movies released a few weeks ago, many armchair critics on YouTube are pitting Sonic The Hedgehog and Birds Of Prey against each other. To them, the box office results teach a moral lesson. From their point of view, Sonic had a higher box office gross because the director and the studio listened to the fan backlash, and Birds Of Prey earned less money because of its feminist themes. The former argument contains a modicum of merit while the latter is a stretch that would even squeeze Mr Fantastic to his limits. Below we’ll look into both these claims from multiple angles and draw up an honest conclusion.
Predicting box office earnings isn’t an exact science. For as long as movies have been around, potential forecasted blockbuster films like John Carter have bombed while seemingly modest films like Casablanca went on to do big business. Attempting to make a high grossing movie is a gamble, a crapshoot that could easily go awry. If anything, hindsight is the only real teacher in the movie business. Only after a movie’s release, Hollywood big shots and pundits can analyze why a film monetarily succeeded or failed. Whatever the case, the end box office results are often predicated on a confluence of many factors. Marketing, audience appeal, reviews, and other factors play a major role in shaping the financial performance of a film.
With this in mind, let’s first start with Sonic The Hedgehog. As many of you know, I didn’t like Sonic The Hedgehog, but I won’t let that get in the way of stating the facts. As of this writing, box office mojo reports that the Sonic film has raked in more than $265 million world wide, easily surpassing its comparatively paltry $85 million budget. The title had the biggest opening weekend of any video game film ever and is undeniably a smash hit.
Sonic The Hedgehog’s box office success is likely due to three factors:
- Sonic The Hedgehog is an incredibly popular intellectual property. Nevermind how good or bad modern Sonic games are, adults and kids spanning different generations know who Sonic is and understand what he’s about.
- The movie gained a lot of press after changing Sonic’s design from its original terrifying form.
- It’s an inoffensive family friendly kids movie and released with little to no competition for this large and lucrative market.
Of all these points, number 3 is the most important. While the popularity of the IP and the character redesign played a key role and set the movie up for its box office success, they pale in comparison to the type market that Paramount and Sega were appealing to.
Sonic The Hedgehog adheres to an established kids movie formula. The storytelling concept of putting a recognizable CGI cartoon character in the real world has a great track record in terms of box office success. For a few examples: The Smurfs had a $563 million box office haul, and Alvin And The Chipmunks made $361 million. Forget how both of these movies were thrashed by critics, little children don’t read or watch movie reviews. They just tell their parents that they want to see a movie, and when that happens, parents, their kids, and maybe some friends pay full price to see an obnoxiously made product placement filled children’s film. As a result, both The Smurfs and Alvin And The Chipmunks spawned enough money to spawn numerous sequels unto a poor unsuspecting world.
Sonic The Hedgehog was similarly a safe bet on paper. Even though video game movies were once viewed as a financial risk, Sonic The Hedgehog embodies the same characteristics inherent to The Smurfs or Alvin And The Chipmunks. Like those movies, Sonic The Hedgehog showcases a child friendly CGI character inhabiting the real world. This storytelling conceit allows the filmmakers to inject corny pop-culture references and shameless product placement into the movie, and Sonic The Hedgehog is littered with this low quality yet lucrative plot trappings.
Admittedly, Sonic The Hedgehog’s gravy train was almost derailed by his ill advised original character design featured in the original trailer. Now, many YouTubers will tell you that Paramount and director Jeff Fowler altered Sonic’s look solely because of fan backlash, but truthfully, the decision likely boiled down to how plastering a nightmare fuel version of a beloved IP messes with the prior explained formula that worked for The Smurfs and Alvin And The Chipmunks. Sure, the backlash lit a fire beneath Paramount’s ass, but the creatives that be likely didn’t change Sonic’s design for purely altruistic reasons.
The fan outcry was merely a wake up call that spurred the studio into action. Afterall, many other movies have angered the denizens of the internet to varying degrees over the years, yet studios and creative teams rarely altered their artistic vision when receiving the internet’s list of misspelled expletive ridden demands. Sonic The Hedgehog was a rare exception, appeasing these angry commenters because it’s a cynical profit driven movie that lacks artistic merit. If Sonic The Hedgehog did contain a true creative vision, Paramount wouldn’t have changed anything because they wouldn’t have designed such a nightmarish incarnation of Sonic (one meant to appease producers and marketers) to begin with.
If anything, the original scary Sonic design was far more representative of the movie we received than the more loyal redesign. On a creative and artistic level, Sonic The Hedgehog is a complete shitshow, but it’s one that had the potential to make a lot of money a la The Smurfs and Alvin And The Chipmunks, hence why that terrifying child unfriendly original design had to go.
Now let’s take a gander at Birds Of Prey. As many of you know, I thoroughly enjoyed Birds Of Prey, yet I won’t be biased just because I loved the movie. With that said though, Birds Of Prey’s box office numbers are surprising. Despite what many YouTubers have said, Birds Of Prey isn’t a flop; it’s actually a small success. According to box office mojo, the film’s worldwide gross is over $188 million, easily recouping its $84.5 million budget with a lot of change to spare. Sure, these numbers don’t set the world on fire, but they’re far from the abysmal box office bomb or flop that many channels make it out to be. In reality, Birds Of Prey is doing quite well for an R-rated movie starring a popular side character from the terrible Suicide Squad film.
So, why are so many people claiming that Birds Of Prey bombed when it didn’t?
Truthfully, many YouTubers are trying to sell a political agenda. While a fair few YouTube personalities claim to be apolitical, their borderline obsessive rants regarding women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community undercut their supposed claims of neutrality. In the case of Birds Of Prey, the political topic is hatred for feminism, and not real actual feminism but a fictionalized evil version, ruining men’s lives by injecting politics into their hobbies. Birds Of Prey is about women banding together to fight a patriarchal world that benefits misogynistic men more so than capable women, and to these YouTubers, that injustice just can’t stand. Even more injurious to the emotional well being of these YouTubers, stars like Ewan McGregor claimed that: “[Birds Of Prey] deals with mysoginy in a very extreme way,” and due to how this movie contains feminist themes and narrative, Birds Of Prey must be bad because, to these upset YouTubers, feminism is bad.
But the reality is that feminism is good. Even though it’s easy to get onboard the anti-feminist hate train when a popular online influencer claims that feminism is a blight inflicted on the world by manhating women, the truth of the matter is that feminism is about equality, not man bashing or stripping men of their rights. Google’s definition of feminism is: “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of equality of the sexes,” and that last part is key. Feminism isn’t some cult where men are shamed. As a feminist myself, a core belief of mine is that men aren’t inherently bad. Instead, the system that benefits men above women rather than equally is what’s actually bad.
This shouldn’t really be a debate with detractors or be a controversial sentiment. Even though some of you might cringe at the words feminist, patriarchy, and misogyny, our culture places men in power far more often than women, and as a result, there are discrepancies between the treatment and rights of women when compared to men. According to a 2018 survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women earn 81 percent of what men earn when doing the same job. Federal, state, and local governments continually try to take away a women’s right of bodily autonomy. In terms of maternal mortality rate, the U.S. ranks at a dreadful 55th.
Feminism means advocating for women’s rights. Unlike what someone on YouTube might have said, feminism isn’t cancer or counterintuitive to the existence of men. Women just want to be treated equally and fairly in everyday life, the work place, and politically, and when you buy into the idea that feminism is bad, then you buy into the belief that an ideal where both men and women are equal in all facets of society is bad.
Anyone online who paints feminism as an evil monolith is trying to sucker you into their political agenda, and that’s true even in the case of all these videos pitting Birds Of Prey and Sonic The Hedgehog against each other. In some of the videos I researched (and I’m not listing them because they don’t deserve more attention), the authors argued that feminism is anti consumer. Yes, really: the rights of women and equality between the sexes are anti consumer. These videos provided “evidence” in how other feminist themed blockbusters like the 2016 Ghostbusters and last year’s Terminator: Dark Fate underwhelmed at the box office, and thus, that’s why Birds Of Prey is flopping as well.
This is hardly a bullet proof rationale for two reasons. Firstly, Ghostbusters and Terminator: Dark Fate are cherry picked and disingenuous examples that ignore the financial success of female empowerment comic book films like box office smashes of Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel. If feminism really was capable of tanking a movie, Wonder Woman wouldn’t have made $821.8 million and Captain Marvel wouldn’t have cleared the billion dollar ceiling at $1.128 billion. With that, the reality is that Ghostbusters and Terminator: Dark Fate failed for more mundane reasons. Rather than the wicked feminism, Ghostbusters had a 27 year gap between installments, and Terminator: Dark Fate did poorly simply because there hasn’t been a good Terminator film since T2: Judgement Day.
Secondly, Birds Of Prey isn’t a flop. As we’ve already stated, Birds Of Prey is performing solidly if not spectacularly. Despite what the online commentators say, the movie has nearly earned a $100 million more than its budget which isn’t even in the same ballpark of being a box office bomb, and anyone claiming otherwise, that Birds Of Prey tanked because of its feminist themes, is selling you an agenda.
This is where Sonic The Hedgehog enters the picture. Every story featuring a dastardly villain needs a hero, and in this instance, that paladin is Sonic The Hedgehog. Numerous commentators on the interwebs have hailed Sonic as the counterpoint to Birds Of Prey. See, Jeff Fowler and Paramount listened to the fans by redesigning Sonic’s original character horror show of a look and created a film that’s comparatively apolitical. The film then went on to be a box office success, and according to a certain sect of YouTubers, Sonic’s higher box office earnings compared to Birds Of Prey is a symbolic victory in a nerd culture war regarding feminism and women in popular culture.
This is a flawed conclusion. Comparing Birds Of Prey’s and Sonic The Hedgehog’s box office gross is illogical. Sonic The Hedgehog is a family friendly kids film, and Birds Of Prey is an R-rated comic book action film. Of course, Sonic earned more money! A PG movie inherently has a bigger audience than an R rated one. In fact, the average PG movie makes nearly double of what an R rated film makes. That’s a hefty sum!
Furthermore, Birds Of Prey’s comparatively minimal earnings can be blamed on an additional factor: Suicide Squad. When I talk to real people across the ideological spectrum, their rationale for skipping Birds Of Prey has to do with Suicide Squad, not feminism. For those of you who didn’t see it, Suicide Squad was Harley Quinn’s live action debut and was a god awful movie. Despite terrific box office numbers, the PG-13 movie was so atrocious that Warner Brothers dropped Jared Letto’s awful Joker, Will Smith isn’t reprising his lead role as Deadshot in any DC movie, and famed Guardians Of The Galaxy director James Gunn was enlisted to direct Suicide Squad 2.
Make no mistake, Suicide Squad is bad enough to repel people from watching Birds Of Prey and is the real reason that some people are skipping Harley Quinn’s new adventure. Suicide Squad was clearly problematic enough for Warner Brothers to overhaul the series, and if someone is telling you that feminism is the real problem, the reality is (-and I can’t stress this enough-) they are trying to sell you an agenda.
Now to play devil’s advocate. Let’s say we buy into the whole Sonic The Hedgehog vs Birds Of Prey debate. I mean, I don’t, but let’s play along anyway. In terms of box office gross, Sonic The Hedgehog is the clear winner but is that really saying anything? Sonic The Hedgehog is a soulless cookie cutter family film. The film’s style and storytelling conceit mimics heartless and cynical family movies like The Smurfs and Alvin And The Chipmunks. Despite coming from a creative property with themes of environmentalism and anti-corporatism, Sonic The Hedgehog contains such little creative vision and confidence in its own decision making process that the studio bent over backwards to redesign Sonic’s character model. While altering Sonic’s look to being more inline with the games was welcome, the fact that Fowler and Paramount needed to intervene reeks of inept project management worth condemning rather than celebrating.
Birds Of Prey, however, is worth applauding. The movie had a real narrative and thematic creative vision. Even beyond how it has some of the best comic book hand to hand fight choreography since Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Birds Of Prey contains a real heart and emotional center. Director Cathy Yan and producer/star Margot Robbie had a feminist story to tell and did so with comic book flair. All the creative voices were onboard with a female empowerment action movie that reflects the lives and struggles of everyday women navigating a male dominated society. Birds of Prey was simultaneously fun while delivering a great nuanced message that could only be told by this creative team with an R-rating. Unlike Sonic The Hedgehog, Birds Of Prey had an artistic vision, one that’s worth celebrating.
And this is ultimately why Birds Of Prey triumphed over Sonic The Hedgehog. While Sonic The Hedgehog is making more money at the box office, Birds Of Prey is an actual artistic statement with a creative voice, and at the end, that’s all that really matters.