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Simplifying Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’s Box Office: From Hit to Bust

We are now 10 full days into the worldwide nightmare that is Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Fans, critics, box office analysts and Hollywood insiders have been twisting themselves in knots over the film’s artistic failings and financial victories. The movie’s defenders accused Marvel of paying certain critics to write bad reviews. Others looked and found no supporting evidence for the theory that RottenTomatoes massaged its own data to artificially lower BvS‘s critic approval rating (29% at last check). Now the significant of the box office totals are being debated.

Let’s simplify things, shall we. BvS‘s opening weekend was about the iconography of the characters and the sheer force of will exerted by WB’s marketing department; its second weekend is about the actual movie and it’s not pretty.

Batman v Superman made a lot of money during its first week because it had several things going for it. Specifically, it’s the first mega-budget action blockbuster of the year. It came out over a holiday weekend, and played in nearly every country in the world. There was no direct competition. WB set a record with the amount of money it spent on BvS TV ads. It’s the first major movie of its kind, i.e., a comic book movie pitting good guy against good guy. It features the live-action feature film debut of Wonder Woman. Oh, and duh…

It’s Batman and freakin’ Superman! Those two godfathers of superhero comics have been a part of popular culture for nearly 8 decades. Before Dawn of Justice, the Big Blue Boy Scout and the Caped Crusader’s movies had grossed a combined $5 billion worldwide since 1978, and that’s before adjusting for inflation.

Word of mouth was dreadful? Critics were going for the jugular? Tons of people still hate Man of Steel?

Pish posh. Put Batman and Superman in a movie together for the first time, throw in Wonder Woman and you’ve got yourself an automatic cultural event.

For like a day. Put all of them together in an astonishingly terrible movie that not only fundamentally misunderstands its characters but also the absolute basics of storytelling and film editing and you get an instant dropoff in audience interest. As a result, Batman v Superman has now set several dubious records:

It’s dropping big in North America (-69% this weekend) and internationally (-67% this weekend). It’s under-performing in China ($85m after 10 days, compared to Age of Ultorn which made $155m in its first 5 days). Even though it still finished #1 in North America this weekend (with a total of $52.4m),  it did so with a near record drop despite the absence of any new competition (sorry, God’s Not Dead 2).

At long last, validation. We don’t have to post our favorite Futurama clip to explain how we felt about Batman v Superman making so much money despite being so terrible:

Regret not all those wasted words on whether or not Batman v Superman meant the end of everything good and pure in the world. Your faith in mankind has been restored. Film fans are turning on this movie quicker than any comic book property since Origins: Wolverine.

We came. We saw. We said, “Screw that movie right in the ear!”

“We’re not concerned with the drop,” said Warners domestic distribution chief Jeff Goldstein, whose job it is to convince the world that metaphoric jars of urine are actually Granny’s Peach Tea. “No matter how you slice it, to get to $52 million on any given weekend is an enormous accomplishment. We’re most focused on where we are in total. And our global number is huge.”

Sigh. Yes, with a current cume of $261m BvS has now eclipsed the domestic totals of every X-Men movie other than Deadpool and every Marvel Studios movie other than Iron Man 1-3, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers and Age of Ultron.  Its current worldwide cume of $682m is similarly superior to most Marvel movies other than Iron Man 3, Guardians, Winter Soldier and the two Avengers titles. It has also passed Man of Steel ($668m) in that category.

Plus, Deathly Hallows-Part 2 dropped 72% and several of the Twilight movies plunged 70% in their second weekends. Batman v Superman‘s drop-off need not be an indictment of its quality as a film but instead a reflection of its status as a front-loaded, fan-fueled hit.

What’s that nonsense you’re cooking up, “Oh, all of these movies are naturally front-loaded thanks to all of those fanboys out there”? I’m a little busy over here looking up statistics for other big comic movies of the past 20 years and wondering why none of them ever dropped off the way BvS has. Not the Nolan Batman movies (Batman Begins -43%, The Dark Knight -53%, The Dark Knight Returns -61%). Neither of the Joel Schumacher Batman movies (-63% for Batman & Robin, -44% for Batman Forever).  None of the Iron Man movies (the highest was Iron Man 2‘s -59%). Certainly neither of The Avengers movies (-50% for Avengers, -59% for Age of Ultron) or any other Marvel Studios release (First Avenger and Incredible Hulk tied for biggest drop with -60%). Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 each dropped -61%. Three X-Men movies have landed on the wrong side of -60% (-64% for Days of Future Past, -66% for The Last Stand, and -69% for Origins: Wolverine).

It is true that studios put blockbusters into more theaters than ever before, and the increasing omnipresence of Thursday night previews inflate totals and make historical comparisons tricky. Still, in the modern era outside of the X-Men franchise it’s odd for a major superhero movie to drop more than 60% in its second weekend. Man of Steel did it (-65%) and now BvS has done it in near-record-setting fashion (-69%)

But, yeah, everything’s totally fine. No need to be concerned. Complete coincidence that Deborah Snyder and James Wan are out there promising Justice League: Part 1 and Aquaman will be lighter and funnier. Pay no attention to reports about Suicide Squad undergoing reshoots to lighten the tone. WB’s absolutely not in full-on damage control. No sir. Everything’s perfectly fine with their slice of the comic book movie dollar.


As I explained last week, prior to BvS no movie made as much in its opening weekend despite being so disliked since Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Twilight: New Moon. Now, no major comic book movie had dropped as much in its second weekend since Origins: Wolverine. That’s not good company for BvS to be in.


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