Asking Whether Or Not Batman v Superman Is a Box Office Hit Is Asking the Wrong Question

Batman v Superman is a hit, so says comScore box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian. He was but one of several analysts quoted in The Hollywood Reporter‘s recent article “Box Office: The Verdict for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” At this point, BvS has concluded its significant box office run meaning it’s fair to look at the numbers and draw some conclusions. That’s exactly what THR did, arguing that regardless of what you may think about BvS as a movie its bonafides as a box office hit cannot be denied. It’s the #7 comic book movie all-time worldwide (currently $862m), #6 internationally (currently $537m) and #11 domestically (currently $325m). Even after you adjust for inflation, it’s still WB’s top-grossing comic book movie behind Tim Burton’s two Batman movies and Christopher Nolan two Dark Knight titles.

Here’s the full quote from Dergarabedian:

“In what world is $862 million not a hit? Despite tepid reviews and mixed audience response, the power of the brand and the novelty of the two iconic super heroes going ‘mano a mano’ has delivered an unqualified global success. From a box office perspective this is a blockbuster hit no matter you slice it.”

He added the following caveat: “Now if you want to talk about the emotional enmity and critical lack of enthusiasm for the film, that’s a separate and distinctive argument. However that’s not relevant to box office-centric perspective that says this movie is a hit.”

At this point, though, asking whether or not Batman v Superman and its impossibly high production/marketing budget should be considered a box office hit is asking the wrong question. The “emotional enmity” and “critical lack of enthusiasm” make for the the bigger story.

For example, the THR article contained a chart breaking down the worldwide grosses of the top 10 comic book movies. The Avengers is #1 with $1.52 billion followed by Age of Ultron ($1.41b), Iron Man 3 ($1.22b), The Dark Knight Rises ($1.08b), The Dark Knight ($1.00b), Spider-Man 3 ($890.9m), BvS ($862m), Spider-Man ($821.7m), The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ($783.7m) and Guardians of the Galaxy ($773.3m).  That’s an understandable barometer of success, but isn’t it funny how ending up in the top 10 worldwide meant nothing for Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, both of which ended their franchises?

Of course, Hollywood is in the business of making money, and turning a profit on Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a win in Sony’s books. However, it didn’t buy them the social capital to keep making Spider-Man sequels with the same director nor the same set of actors and writers. Instead, planned sequels never left development hell and potential cinematic universes were snuffed out in their infancy.

That’s because when we talk about box office we’re never just talking about a cold, hard analysis of profitability (not that we ever truly know a movie’s final return on investment). We’re talking about expectations, and whether or not a film’s financial performance roughly lined up with its critical and fan reception. Disney can spend untold millions on Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger’s Tide and boast about ending up with a worldwide gross just over $1 billion, but then they’ll spend 6 years developing the sequel out of a fear that audiences had simply cooled on the property (it did set a new franchise low in the U.S./Canada) and the cost/benefit ratio of what they were spending versus what they were making called for a major adjustment. Paramount has been doing the same thing with Transformers, whose sequels keep taking longer and longer to arrive.

When movies are made at a certain budget level, the studios will simply crank out sequels until they cease being profitable. We’ve seen that with micro-budget horror movies again and again, from Jason Voorhees to Jigsaw to whatever the heck the name of the Insidious villain is. However, when we’re talking about blockbusters and the now-mandatory $150m-$200m marketing spend to ensure a successful global launch it actually matters, if just a teensy, tiny bit, that audiences like the movies.

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Clearly, the existence of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 after the poorly received first one contradicts that point.

However, that introduces the question of how you actually measure the audience’s response. The critics, if you actually are about them, are covered through RottenTomatoes and Metacritic. Fans, though, what do you turn to? IMDB? RottenTomatoes reader ratings? CinemaScore or privately commissioned studies by comScore? Social media mentions?

If you’ve been reading my coverage of BvS you know where I am heading with this: you turn to looking at the weekly declines and the overall multiplier and figure out where they stand, historically. In short, a movie’s opening weekend is a testament to a studio’s marketing department and built-up trust in a specific brand; the performance in the following weeks is the true measure of whether or not people liked your movie. The bigger story with BvS to me is not that it’s going to fail reach $1 billion or even $900m worldwide nor that it should still be regarded as a hit. It’s that it is the most front-loaded blockbuster of our era, and has declined post-opening weekend at a rate on par with franchise non-starters (2015’s Fantastic Four) and enders (Spider-Man 3, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Fantastic Four: Silver Surfer).

Head here and here for the previous charts I put up breaking all of that down. Here’s a new one:

The Top 12 Comic Book Movies (Domestic) – How Much of Their Total Gross Came From Opening Weekend

Film

Opening Weekend

Total Domestic Gross

% of Total Gross

The Avengers

$207m

$623m

33%

The Dark Knight

$158m

$534m

29%

Avengers: Age of Ultron

$191m

$459m

41%

The Dark Knight Rises

$160m

$448.1m

35%

Iron Man 3

$174m

$409m

42%

Spider-Man

$114m

$403m

28%

Spider-Man 2

$88m

$373m

23%

Deadpool

$132m

$361m

36%

Spider-Man 3

$151m

$336m

44%

Guardians of the Galaxy

$94m

$333m

28%

Batman v Superman

$166m

$325m

51%

Iron Man

$98m

$318m

30%

Even Marvel’s most front-loaded blockbuster didn’t approach 50% on that chart. Not even Spider-Man 3 did. I’m guessing BvS has just enough juice left in the tank to add enough additional domestic gross to drop its opening weekend/total gross percentage from 51% to 49%. If you’re curious about another noted franchise-ender (kind of, at least), X-Men: The Last Stand made 43% from its total gross on opening weekend. It should also be noted that Spider-Man 2 came out in the middle of the week meaning that before its opening weekend officially started it had already made $64m.

As I’ve said multiple times before, when it comes to Batman v Superman no comic book movie has ever made so much money while falling so fast. That’s the story, not whether or not WB will turn a profit or where it’s going to end up falling on the list of highest-grossing comic book movies.

The true question we should be asking is what this will mean for the box office for Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman and Justice League-Part One. What BvS just did has usually been when studios call it a day and put a property on ice for a while before trotting it back out. Instead, WB will have three new DC movies out by Christmas 2017. This is unprecedented territory. Hardcore fans might be duty-bound to keep forking over their money to WB, but the general population might be too reluctant after being burned by BvS. Or it could be the reverse, the hardcore turning on them and the more general asking, “I don’t know what everyone’s so upset about. BvS was pretty good.” Where this goes, no one knows.

Source: THR

About Kelly Konda (1647 Articles)
Grew up obsessing over movies and TV shows. Worked in a video store. Minored in film at college because my college didn't offer a film major. Worked in academia for a while. Have been freelance writing and running this blog since 2013.

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