Director James Wan's Aquaman continues its global domination, and is not only expected to top the domestic box office for the fourth weekend but also finally cross $1 billion worldwide. It will be only the third DC film overall to reach that milestone, following The Dark Knight's $1.004 billion in 2008 and The Dark Knight Rises' $1.08 billion in 2012.
While it's not yet the highest-earning DC film, Aquaman will likely overtake the lifetime box office of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight by the time receipts are counted on Monday. That provides Warner Bros. and DC Films with a much-needed win after the lackluster commercial and critical response to 2017's Justice League, the worst-performing installment of the struggling DC Extended Universe, which earned just $657.9 million globally.
The extraordinary success of Aquaman was certainly far from a guarantee. While a fan-favorite actor, known primarily for his role on Game of Thrones, star Jason Momoa was relatively unproven on the big screen. His highest-profile film before Justice League had been a starring role in the poorly received 2011 reboot Conan the Barbarian. Additionally, Aquaman himself had spent the past several decades as little more than a punchline in popular culture, redeemed only through a couple of noteworthy comic book runs from DC. Wonder Woman had begun to carve a path for a brighter, and more successful, DCEU in 2017, but after the setback of Justice League, Aquaman as a franchise course correction wasn't a lock.
With its luminous visuals and more lighthearted tone, Aquaman proved to be a clear break, stylistically, from the dark-and-gritty DCEU of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad and Justice League. Additionally, the film benefited from especially strong box-office performances overseas. With $283.9 million, it became the top-earning Warner Bros. film ever in China, and second only to Marvel's Avengers: Infinity War as the highest-grossing Hollywood release in that nation, the world's second-largest film market. While The Dark Knight met with foreign box office success, it earned less than $25 million in China, as the country had not become particularly receptive to Hollywood films at the time.
Going into 2018, Warner Bros. was in desperate need for a strong feature from its DC Films division. The studio had undergone restructuring after Justice League, with Zack Snyder and Deborah Snyder departing as shepherds of the DCEU, and Geoff Johns stepping down as chief creative officer and president of DC Entertainment. While Aquaman earned only a middling critics' score of 64 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and faced what was expected to be strong competition from Mary Poppins Returns and Bumblebee, it exceeded all commercial expectations with its month-long extraordinary success and its superior performance overseas. Just as The Dark Knight influenced the direction of the Warner Bros. superhero films that followed, perhaps Aquaman's success will inform where the studio goes next, tonally, with its DC adaptations.
Directed by James Wan, Aquaman stars Jason Momoa as Aquaman, Amber Heard as Mera, Patrick Wilson as Ocean Master, Willem Dafoe as Nuidis Vulko, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Manta, Temuera Morrison as Thomas Curry, Dolph Lundgren as Nereus and Nicole Kidman as Queen Atlanna.