Box Office

Box Office: Wonder Woman Is Now the Most Resilient Superhero Movie Since the First Spider-Man

Wonder Woman is kind of a big deal. You don’t need to know anything about the film’s box office performance to know that. Simply browse social media, drop in on some podcasts, check out a couple of YouTube shows or talk to some friends or family members, and chances are high that you’re going to encounter more than a couple of people who have not only seen and loved Wonder Woman but also cried through it and found it to be one of the more emotionally rewarding moviegoing experiences of the year. So, yeah, it’s reached “big deal” status.

Me telling you that Wonder Woman’s 17-day gross now stands at $274m domestic/$571m worldwide simply confirms as much. Ditto for the fact that it is now the third highest grossing film of the year at the domestic box office, sixth highest worldwide.

We get it. It’s making a lot of money, and that’s why it’s now everywhere we turn on the internet. Everyone’s seen it, and everyone wants to talk about it.

But aren’t we used to this boom-and-trail-off cycle by now? Some big superhero movie comes along, lights the world on fire for a couple of weeks and then fades away only to be replaced by the next superhero movie up. The especially good ones (e.g., Iron Man, The Dark Knight, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy) tend to last a little longer and make a bigger cultural impact than the not-so-good ones, but it’s still the same basic cycle over and over again, with increasingly meaningless box office figures thrown about and records broken at an alarming pace. You can trace that all the way back to the ’89 Batman, the film which, more so than Star Wars or Jaws, truly kickstarted Hollywood’s blockbuster strategy of prioritizing huge opening weekends and learning to live with steep post-opening declines.

But Wonder Woman isn’t actually trailing off, at least not as much as normal. It only fell off -43% in its second weekend and -30% in its third. Those figures aren’t just unprecedented for any blockbuster in recent memory; they’re better than any other superhero movie since X-Men and Spider-Man made spandex cool again in the early 2000s. 

Wonder Woman has clearly become not only a must-see movie but also a must-see-again movie in a way which us truly unique for the genre. That’s all the more amazing because of just how much is riding on this film’s success – the fate of the DCEU, female superhero movies and female directors in Hollywood. 

 To put this in context, I did the math nerd thing, and looked up the 2nd and 3rd weekend drops for every Marvel or DC superhero movie since 2000 (the full table is below; quibble in the comments over my exclusion of the Blade movies).  I originally intended to simply go as far back as 2008 to the start of the modern superhero movie era with Iron Man and The Dark Knight, expecting one of those to have posted better holds since I remember how culturally important they each seemed at the time of their release.Nope. Wonder Woman has both of ‘em beat.

What about 2005’s Batman Begins? That movie’s legendary for its low opening and amazing legs from that point forward, as the “Holy shit! This is really good!” word spread throughout the summer and sucked in those who swore off all Batman movies after Batman & Robin.Nope. Wonder Woman’s got that one beat, too.

Well, surely the first or second Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies were better at audience retention because they had the benefit of being the first mega-hit superhero movies of the new millennium, building on the good will earned by X-Men to blow the roof off and change the trajectory of movies for the next half-decade. Nope. Wonder Woman’s got Spider-Man 2 beat, but not the first Spider-Man, at least not completely. No other superhero movie, not even Spider-Man, comes close to Wonder Woman’s third weekend drop of a mere -30%, but Spider-Man did have a better second weekend hold (-37% for Spidey vs. -43% for Diana).

It seems appropriate that Wonder Woman’s audience retention would be unmatched until you go as far back as Spider-Man because back then the world was desperate for a hero, what with Raimi’s film arriving less than a year after 9/11. Similarly, Wonder Woman fills a current societal need for a strong female hero for a wide variety of deeply depressing reasons. Spider-Man seemed like something genuinely new for the superhero genre, forcing people to come back week after week to watch Peter Parker climb up that wall for the first time (a scene Wonder Woman recreates in its own way), soar through the sky like a modern day Superman and do his entirely impractical upside down kiss with Mary Jane. Wonder Woman also feels genuinely new if only because of its more hopeful point of view and obviously switched gender roles. 


Opening Weekend

2nd Weekend Drop

3rd Weekend Drop

Wonder Woman

$103.2M -43.3% -30.3%

Guardians of the Galaxy 2

$146.5M -55.5% -46.9%


$88.4M -56.9% -53.3%

Doctor Strange

$85M -49.5% -58.7%

Suicide Squad

$133.6M -67.4% -52.1%

X-Men: Apocalypse

$65.7M -65.3% -56.6%

Captain America: Civil War

$179.1M -59.5% -54.7%

Batman v Superman

$166M -69.1% -54.5%


$132.4M -57.4% -44.9%

Fantastic Four

$25.6M -68.2% -54.3%


$57.2M -56.5% -48.6%

Avengers: Age of Ultron

$191.2M -59.4% -50%

Guardians of the Galaxy

$94.3M -55.3% -40.4%

Days of Future Past

$90.8M -64.2% -53.4%

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

$91.6M -61.2% -52.7%

Captain America: Winter Soldier

$95M -56.6% -38%

Thor: The Dark World

$85.7M -57.3% -61.2%

The Wolverine

$53.1M -59.9% -62.4%

Man of Steel

$116.6M -64.6% -49.8%

Iron Man 3

$174.1M -58.4% -50.7%

The Dark Knight Rises

$160.8M -61.4% -42.5%

The Amazing Spider-Man

$62M -44.2% -68.6%

The Avengers

$207.4M -50.3% -46%

Captain America: The First Avenger

$65M -60.7% -49%

Green Lantern

$53.1M -66.1% -63.6%

X-Men: First Class

$55.1M -56.2% -50.5%


$65.7M -47.2% -55.5%

Iron Man 2

$128.1M -59.4% -49.3%

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

$85M -69% -44.3%


$55.2M -67.7% -61.8%

Punisher: War Zone

$4.2M -67.6% -86%

The Dark Knight

$158.4M -52.5% -43.2%

The Incredible Hulk

$55.4M -60.1% -56.7%

Iron Man

$98.6M -48.1% -37.8%

Fantastic Four 2

$58M -65.5% -54.3%

Spider-Man 3

$151.1M -61.5% -50.1%

Superman Returns

$52.5M -58.5% -43.7%

X-Men: The Last Stand

$102.7M -66.9% -52.7%

Fantastic Four

$56M -59.4% -44.5%

Batman Begins

$48.7M -43.4% -43.4%


$12.8M -69% -64.4%


$16.7M -61.5% -55%

Spider-Man 2

$88.1M -48.7% -45.2%

The Punisher

$13.8M -54.6% -44.3%


$62.1M -69.7% -56.3%

X2: X-Men United

$85.5M -53.2% -56.8%


$40.3M -55.1% -38.5%


$114.8M -37.8% -36.9%


$54.4M -56.9% -46%

To be fair, 2nd and 3rd weekend declines don’t always mean much as we might think. This is ostensibly a word-of-mouth measurement, but not always. After all, Daredevil had one of the genre’s best third weekend declines with -38%, yet no one seemed to particularly love the movie back then let alone now.  And many films in the above table ended up grossing way more domestically (and worldwide) than Wonder Woman could dream, regardless of how quickly they dropped after opening. Plus, the level of competition these films face from other movies post-opening weekend varies considerably.

However, the takeaway is that Wonder Woman is out there performing like no superhero movie has since the genre seemed new again, which is entirely fitting. Regardless of its various similarities to Donner’s Superman, First Avenger, Thor and even Disney princess movies, Wonder Woman is a first of its kind, and audiences are treating it accordingly, as if they’ve never seen anything like it before and can’t stop going back to see it again and again and again.

So, yeah, as of this writing Wonder Woman is kind of a big deal.

1 comment

  1. I am just hoping that there are somewhere some executives which now feel like idiots because they have left that particular gold mine untapped for so long. But I guess that would be too much to ask.

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