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Aquaman’s top box office spot, over the other DC Extended Universe movies, was earned for several reasons, but the big reason… is China.

According to Box Office Mojo, the current domestic total for Aquaman is $308 million while the foreign take is $766 million. That breaks down to 71.3% foreign box office versus 28.7% in the United States and Canada.

So now let’s look at the foreign versus domestic percentage from the other DC Extended Universe films.

Man of Steel foreign percentage: 56.4%

Batman v. Superman foreign percentage: 62.2%

Suicide Squad foreign percentage: 56.5%

Wonder Woman foreign percentage: 49.8%

Justice League foreign percentage: 65.2%

Aquaman foreign percentage: 71.3%

(All figures by Box Office Mojo) DC Comics Extended Universe

A good chunk of Aquaman’s foreign percentage is the 300 million+ dollars that Chinese audiences contributed.

Aquaman found fans around the world, while domestically Aquaman still lags behind Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman.

Yes, you read that right. In the United States and Canada Aquaman ranks number four in the DC Extended Universe.

Aquaman is still earning so it may catch up to the other films but it’s illustrative of the divide between the popularity domestically, versus the rest of the world.

So what is it about Aquaman that resonated with China and foreign audiences over those in North America?

The Avatar Effect

If you’re in a country where English is your second language then a movie that’s a visual spectacle is more likely to attract your attention. James Cameron’s Avatar did incredible business around the world because the 3-D effects and the creative neon pulsing world were such a trip in the theaters.

Other films that have done poorly in the United States that did gangbusters business in China include Transformers: the Last Night, The Great Wall, Warcraft, and Pacific Rim, all visually significant films.

Aquaman succeeded in part due to the beautiful sprawling underwater seascapes, the epic battles, and the very clever and colorful brushstrokes of director James Wan.

The underwater setting and the production design were unique enough to separate Aquaman from the crowd.

But there are plenty of other reasons that Aquaman succeeded with audiences both foreign and domestic.

Hope and Adventure

Aquaman mirrored the tone of Marvel Cinematic Universe films by offering the same lighthearted spirit and sense of adventure.

Audiences were turned off by the dark and deconstructed treatment of the DC universe by Zack Snyder. I loved the look and mood and gravitas of the Snyder films, but film viewers have made their choice loud and clear.

Aquaman was a fun movie, with lots of jokes, heart, and action. It’s not a surprise that this is a winning combination because we have seen this template played out for the past 10 years in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The tone and the heart of this movie were crafted with great expertise by the director James Wan.


This is entirely the fault of DC owner Warner Brothers, and they should take the blame for this, but several of the DC movies were designed to quickly build a massive universe, instead of slowly introducing the universe through smaller films.

Warner Brothers wanted to introduce the entire Justice League roster by the second movie Batman v Superman. Suicide Squad was tasked with jumpstarting Batman’s rogues gallery. The movie Justice League was supposed to be thier answer to Marvel’s The Avengers.

It’s no coincidence that Wonder Woman excelled by just being a simple origin story. Instead of building an entire universe, Wonder Woman focused on one small part of the world and told a more intimate story about the main character.

Aquaman found success for the same reason. While the scope was epic the story and the focus was squarely on one character. Aquaman is a standard hero’s journey as a superhero origin story. It’s simple and it’s effective.

Focus on one character and one story created a much more enjoyable experience for the audience.

Jason Momoa

Since Stargate Atlantis I have been rooting for Jason Momoa.

He looks like a superhero before he ever puts on the tights, he has an ocean full of charisma, and he appears to be a cool guy. I’ve been waiting for him to find his audience for well over a decade and a half.

Momoa is a large part of the success of Aquaman. He’s believable in the role. He’s also likable. And he makes a character, that has faced a lot of ridicule in the past, absolutely incredibly cool.

He also did his part on the red carpet, on talk shows, junkets, and through social media. Momoa advocated for this film in a way that was similar to how Ryan Reynolds advocated for Deadpool.

It’s Jason Momoa’s time to shine and he is blazing.

No Competition

Aquaman opened next to films like Mary Poppins Returns, Bumblebee, Welcome to Marwan, Holmes and Watson, and other duds. The first movie to knock Aquaman off the top spot was The Upside, after four weeks of dominance.

Aquaman continues to generate good money after a month in release, making it one of the more “leggy” movies of the past few years.

Box Office: ‘Aquaman’ Is The Leggiest Comic Book Superhero Movie In 25 Years

And More

There’s one other factor in Aquaman’s success that I only rarely hear. We are in a particularly challenging time with news and politics and real life trying to drag us down into a depressive morass.

A lot of filmmakers miss the fact that most people go to theaters to escape from reality. We don’t go to be preached to, or taught a lesson, or converted to some sort of ideology. We go to take a two-hour break from everything else that’s happening.

Aquaman is a film that is unapologetically joyous and bold. Audiences will reward a film that will help us escape the bickering heads on cable news and the drudgery of daily life.

And audiences have greatly rewarded Aquaman for that very reason.

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