Warner Bros. reminds us: It’s SEO’s world, and we just live in it

Last Friday, Warner Bros. released its newest superhero movie: “Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.” But 3 days later the movie, which underperformed in a $33m opening weekend, appeared on movie theater websites under a different name: “Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey.” So, why did the name change? Because Harley […]


February 11, 2020

Harley Quinn image

Last Friday, Warner Bros. released its newest superhero movie: “Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.”

But 3 days later the movie, which underperformed in a $33m opening weekend, appeared on movie theater websites under a different name: “Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey.”

So, why did the name change?

Because Harley Quinn had better SEO

A Warner Bros. spokesperson 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.”

After moviegoers seemed not to immediately recognize what “Birds of Prey” was about, Warner Bros. decided that leading off with “Harley Quinn” — the recognizable name of the film’s antiheroine — would lure viewers into theaters. 

It’s too soon to tell whether or not the strategy will pay off. But, in any case, it’s a fascinating reminder of the very real ways that search engine indexing shapes the world around us. 

And it’s not the first major movie to make a serious SEO slip-up

“Dark Phoenix,” a movie about a character from X-Men, was also criticized for failing to include important info in its title (the movie, which cost $200m to produce, only grossed $65m domestically).

But since SEO has impacted movie titles for such a long time, many critics wondered: How did Warner Bros. screw this up?

Some critics speculate that the original mouthful of a title may have resulted from a disagreement between the movie’s director Cathy Yan and Warner Bros. studio execs.

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