Let’s Give ‘Shazam’ Credit For Keeping Its Best Action Sequence Totally Secret
The following post contains SPOILERS for Shazam. It will also praise Shazam for keeping these spoilers secret. We recognize the hypocrisy here.
Shazam grossed $53.5 million in U.S. theaters last weekend. That would be a solid total by most standards, but it’s also the weakest box office debut to date for a DC Extended Universe movie. Shazam made less than a third of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in its opening weekend ($166 million) and barely more than half what Wonder Woman earned in 2017 ($103.2 million).
Obviously Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are all vastly more well-known than Shazam. (Although Billy Batson has been around for 80 years, his costumed alter ego wasn’t even named Shazam until 2011.) And Wonder Woman had the benefit of the character’s introduction in Batman v Superman to help boost its box office, just as Aquaman (which also outgrossed Shazam in its theatrical opening last winter) had Justice League to prime the proverbial pump. Shazam arrived in theaters with no introduction and no fanfare. Given the bad taste many of DC Comics’ recent movies left in audiences’ mouths, it might have arrived with the opposite of fanfare.
With those disadvantages, Shazam was guaranteed to make less money than most of the DC Extended Universe to date. You can imagine scenarios that might have helped boost its opening weekend — a cast with bigger stars, a darker and more serious tone — but they’re all hypotheticals. I’m certain, though, was one way Warner Bros. could have scored a bigger opening without much difficulty. And I think they deserve a little recognition for deliberately not choosing to do so, because they sacrificed some additional revenue in order to give viewers who did come a better experience.
That’s because they completely hid the fact that Shazam ends with a huge action sequence, one far bigger than any that preceded it in the film. Realizing he cannot defeat the evil Sivana (Mark Strong) by himself, Billy Batson (Asher Angel) shares his Shazam powers with the rest of his adopted family, turning his siblings into a team of superheroes. The adult versions of Billy’s brothers and sisters even include recognizable actors like Adam Brody of The OC as the embiggened Freddy, D.J. Cotrona as the grown-up Pedro, and Meagan Good as the Shazamified Darla.
It’s a truly, delightfully surprising moment. Shazam director David F. Sandberg told me that he was so focused on preserving that secret that the actors auditioning for the parts of the adult Shazam Family didn’t even know the true roles they were up for.
“[Shazam screenwriter] Henry [Gayden] wrote special scenes that weren't in the movie and didn't have the character names,” Sandberg told me. “He wrote scenes that had the personalities of the characters we were looking for. So when people came in to audition they didn’t know that it was for those specific parts. I think the Darla one was a driver's test she was freaking out about. Ordinary scenes where we could still judge if they were the right personality for it.”
The Shazam Family’s showdown with Sivana and the Seven Deadly Sins is a funny and occasionally spectacular setpiece, with some of the biggest-name talents in the entire movie. And it was totally left out of every Shazam trailer and commercial leading up to the movie’s release, even though teasing it would have generated more pre-release hype. When I saw Shazam at an early screening of critics and fans, the entire theater audibly gasped and then broke into applause when the Shazams appeared. Producer Peter Safran told me he witnessed similar reactions in every screening he attended, noting “It's such a satisfying moment.”
It is — and it would have been a lot less satisfying if you knew it was coming. Rather than capitalize on some big stars and the promise of large-scale action, they preserved the mystery, almost certainly at the expense of at least a few million bucks last weekend. In the fiscally driven world of Hollywood, where the bottom line is everything, this feels unusual — almost even magical.
Gallery — The Best Coolest Shazam Easter Eggs You Might Have Missed: