11 Comparisons That Suggest Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Wasn’t the Big Hit Warner Bros. Needed It To Be
First, some goods news for fans who liked Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: at the time I’m writing this (early May 2016, days before Captain America: Civil War hits North American theatres), the film has earned just over $325 million in North America and $860 million worldwide. It’s currently ranked No. 11 on Box Office Mojo’s list of highest-grossing comic-book adaptations (sitting just behind Guardians of the Galaxy)(and very likely getting bumped to No. 12 when Civil War comes out), and it’s Warner Bros.’ fifth-highest grossing movie in the North American market.
So… it’s a big fat success, right? Well… not quite.
If BvS had been sent out into the world as a standalone sequel to Man of Steel with no higher aspirations than that, then its promoters might be in a better position to argue for its success.
But the film was supposed to do much more than show two superheroes in a big fight. It was designed from the beginning to jump-start the DC Cinematic Universe, revitalize the Superman and Batman characters, get critics and fans excited about future DC projects (including the upcoming Suicide Squad), and justify all the money and studio clout that Warner Bros. has sunk into it in an effort to create a money-making franchise that can compete with Marvel’s hugely successful cinematic universe.
Given all those expectations, there’s no getting around it: even with all that money in the bank, the numbers simply don’t support the idea the film was a success. And the farther away we get from its big opening weekend, the more it’s becoming clear it’s not the huge hit Warner Bros. executives were hoping — nay, praying — it would be.
Proof? Consider how well the film competes…
1. …vs. Daredevil (2003)
|Tomatometer reading for Daredevil:||44%|
|Tomatometer reading for BvS:||27%|
Over at Rotten Tomatoes, films are rated on the Tomatometer, which ranks a movie’s “freshness” based on reviews by film critics. The number can go from 0% (Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2) to 100% (Citizen Kane), depending on what critics said about the film. Daredevil, the 2003 film that Ben Affleck once said was the only movie he regretted doing, scored 44%, placing it just slightly ahead of other middling comic-book films like Sin City: A Dame to Kill For and 300: Rise of an Empire. (On the bright side, not a whole lot was riding on any of these films being a critical or financial success.) By contrast, BvS — a major tentpole film for Warner Bros. starring three of DC’s most iconic characters and introducing a few new ones with films already in production — scored only 27%, which isn’t surprising when you read the scathing and frankly hilarious reviews the film inspired in people who watch movies for a living. How bad is that? It’s just slightly ahead of 2011’s Green Lantern and 2007’s Ghost Rider (both 26%), neither of which are considered classic films by anyone, and it’s the same score as 2008’s Punisher: War Zone. Even Disney’s The Lone Ranger, a film widely considered the biggest big-budget debacle of 2013, managed to scrape a 31% approval rating from critics… and that movie had Johnny Depp wearing something on his head far more ridiculous than whatever was going on with Eisenberg’s hair.
2. …vs. Catwoman (2004)
|CinemaScore grade for Catwoman:||B|
|CinemaScore grade for BvS:||B|
But perhaps you’re someone who scoffs at the critics. “So what if Mr. Snooty Van Snoot the Film Critic didn’t like it?” you say. “Look at that audience score next to that dumb rating! See, 68% of the fans who voted said they liked it! The people have spoken!” If that’s you, chances are you’re familiar with CinemaScore, a research firm that surveys film audiences on opening nights to find out how much they liked the film they just saw. Films that earn an A or A+ from filmgoers almost always go on to do very well in awards and box-office receipts, while Bs are handed out to probably-okay-but-could-do-better films (films that get a C or D are considered failures by shall studios, and we shall not talk about the rare films that earn an F). Almost all the films in Box Office Mojo’s list of the 20 highest-grossing comic-based films were rated A or A+ by CinemaScore, the only exceptions being Men in Black (B+) and BvS (B). And while scoring a B doesn’t sound too bad if you’re talking about a math test, keep in mind this score came from fans on opening night — i.e., the ones most likely to think favorably of the movie they came out to see. It also puts BvS on the same level as the notoriously awful Catwoman, the genuinely disappointing Green Lantern, and the what-the-hell-were-they-thinking Elektra. On the bright side, at least it scored slightly better than the B- audiences gave Howard the Duck. So… thumbs up?
3. …vs. Batman & Robin (1997)
|Second-weekend drop for Batman & Robin:||63.3%|
|Second-weekend drop for BvS:||69.1%|
“Enough with your subjective reviews and grades!” I can hear someone say. “All that matters in Hollywood is making money!” Fair enough. Let’s look at some of the financial indicators Hollywood watchers use to determine if a film is a hit or a miss. One of them is the second-weekend drop, or the percentage by which a film’s gross falls between its opened weekend and its second weekend of release. The smaller the drop, the more likely it is that people who saw the movie on opening weekend either went back to see it again or encouraged other people to see it. The extended toy commercial known as Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin opened strongly with $48 million in its first weekend (June 20-22, 1997), but horrible reviews and bad word of mouth caused a 63% drop in ticket sales the following weekend. Compare that to BvS, which opened respectably with a $166-million opening weekend but saw ticket sales plummet 69% the following weekend — a stunning drop made even more so by the fact there was no other major movie coming out that weekend (Batman & Robin opened in early summer, when more blockbusters tend to come out, and in its second weekend it placed third after John Woo’s Face/Off and Disney’s Hercules). To put that number in perspective, 2015’s Fantastic Four, a film seen as a failure on all fronts, saw a second-weekend drop of “only” 68.2%. Memo to up-and-coming studio executives: when a movie like Fantastic Four can brag better numbers than your film, that’s not a good sign.
4. …vs. Iron Man 3 (2013)
|Opening-week gross for Iron Man 3:||$212,421,084|
|Opening-week gross for BvS:||$209,072,793|
On the other hand, second-weekend drops don’t always tell the whole story. Sometimes, a movie sees a huge drop simply because it had a long way to drop. That’s often the case with movies that are highly anticipated by huge numbers of fan who have to see it as soon as it comes out; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, for instance, opened big ($169 million) and saw a 72% drop the next weekend. So you could see BvS in the same way: as a hotly anticipated “event” film that most fans had to see in its first week. Speaking of which: another movie that fans came out in huge numbers to see in its first week was Iron Man 3, which bested BvS’s first-week domestic take by more than $3 million (and also made $174 million in its opening weekend compared to $166 million for BvS). On the one hand, it’s easy to discount IM3’s better showing: it was part of an already-established franchise, it was the first MCU movie to come out after The Avengers, etc. But here’s the thing: as delightful as Robert Downey, Jr., may be as an actor, he’s just one leading man playing a hero who prior to his film debut was at best a B-list superhero in terms of greater public awareness. BvS had two leading men playing the most iconic superheroes ever conceived. Plus the promise of a battle royale between those icons that fans had waited decades to see. Plus the debut of an iconic super-heroine whose own fans had been waiting just as long (if not longer) to see in a film. Plus a name-brand super-villain played by a curious (and potentially inspired) choice of actor. Plus the promise of cameos by other hotly anticipated DC heroes. Plus some heavy hitters in supporting roles. Plus… Plus… Plus… Look, Iron Man 3 was a fine enough film and no one should feel ashamed about losing a box-office battle to it. But losing a box-office battle to it, with all that in your corner? That’s outright embarrassing…
5. …vs. Deadpool (2016)
|Deadpool domestic gross after 5 weeks:||$332,941,383|
|BvS domestic gross after 5 weeks:||$321,322,593|
…but not nearly as embarrassing as losing a battle to this guy. To recap: in one corner, we have the two greatest superhero icons in history — plus a sizable helping of the greatest female superhero in history — in a PG-13 adventure with tonnes of special effects, cameos and Easter eggs designed to please comic fans and non-fans alike. In the other corner, we have a film with an actor trying to overcome a dubious superhero film track record by playing a masked anti-hero once only known to hardcore ’90s comic fans, in an R-rated film that either couldn’t or wouldn’t leverage the big-name Marvel heroes in the Fox stable. Oh, and no big-name super-villain for him to fight, either. Nope, all Deadpool had going for it was a charismatic leading man, a killer script (pun!), some inventive storytelling and camera work, and a genuine sense of fun (all directed by “an overpaid tool,” a.k.a. first-time film director Tim Miller). Result? At the five-week mark for both films, Deadpool — the second highest-grossing R-rated film ever (after The Passion of the Christ, which arguably shouldn’t count) — out-earned BvS at the domestic box office by more than $11 million. Granted, it’s a different story when you look at the foreign box office: as of this writing, Deadpool has earned about $400 million outside North America compared to BvS’s $538 million, which is not surprising given how Batman and Superman are two of the few truly global icons. But here’s something else that’s interesting: in foreign markets where English is a dominant language — United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Israel (Canada gets lumped in with U.S. numbers) — Deadpool is either neck-and-neck with or doing much better than BvS. For instance, Australian audiences have so far spent $33 million to date on the Merc with a Mouth compared to $22.5 million on the other guys. It’s interesting because it suggests that the more likely an audience is to see the two movies in their original language, the more likely it is to vote Deadpool the superior film — suggesting there may be a problem with BvS’s script more so than its visual appeal.
6. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
|Weeks at #1 for Guardians of the Galaxy:||4|
|Weeks at #1 for BvS:||2|
Like Deadpool, not a lot of people were expecting great things from Guardians of the Galaxy. Sure, it was made by those Marvel guys who seemed to know how to make a good comic-book movie… but come on. There’s a raccoon firing a space gun right there on the poster! A lot of people even said that maybe Marvel had overestimated its audience’s willingness to watch anything with a Marvel logo on it, with some even suggesting this might be the studio’s first bomb. But a funny thing happened: people saw the movie, loved it, and went back for more. It didn’t matter that the movie starred an obscure team of Marvel space heroes with no overt connection to Iron Man or Captain America; audiences rewarded the movie’s snappy writing, zippy space action and infectious sense of humour by making it the 10th highest-grossing comic-book film of all time. It also enjoyed four weeks at the No.1 movie in North America — falling to second place in its second and third weeks when Michael Bay’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came out, but winning back the No. 1 spot between Aug. 22 and Sept. 11 of that year. By contrast, BvS opened with no major competition on March 26, retained the top spot in its second week largely because no other studio scheduled a major release to compete with it, and then dropped to second place in its third week behind — of all things — The Boss, a Melissa McCarthy vehicle. Don’t get me wrong, McCarthy’s a funny lady, but it’s weird how a slight comedy about a down-on-her-luck CEO was the film that knocked BvS out of the No. 1 slot, and not a movie you might expect to do the job. A film like, oh, I don’t know…
7. …vs. Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)
|First-week theatre average for Avengers:||$62,088|
|First-week theatre average for BvS:||$49,286|
Well, I was going to say Captain America: Civil War, but sure, let’s talk about the current reigning comic-movie champ. If we’re going to judge a superhero movie solely by how much money it makes, then Marvel’s The Avengers must be the best one ever made, with a worldwide take of more than $1.5 billion — half a billion dollars more than runner-up The Dark Knight. And make no mistake, that film’s financial and critical success is pretty much the only reason why Warner Bros. is so keen to build its own highly profitable universe of superhero movies — though the BvS numbers suggest they might want to change their approach. Consider: while it only took 9 days for Avengers to cross the $300-million mark, it took BvS 20 days to reach the same point. Avengers earned $207 million in its first weekend compared to $166 million for BvS, and only dropped 50% in its second weekend compared to BvS’s 69%. But the real story may be in the theatre averages: Avengers played in 4,349 theatres on opening weekend to earn a $62,088 per-theatre average, while BvS opened in 4,242 theatres with a $49,286 average take — not chump change, sure (it’s about on par with opening-week averages by Iron Man 3 and Deadpool), but far less than what you might reasonably expect from a film representing DC’s answer to The Avengers, and starring the three heaviest hitters in the DC dugout.
8. …vs. Superman (1978) and Batman (1989)
|Box office take, adjusted for ticket price inflation, for Superman:||$492,132,700|
|Box office take, adjusted for ticket price inflation, for Batman:||$482,386,861|
|Box office take for BvS as of May 3:||$325,458,158|
When comparing the box-office totals of two or more movies from different decades, you have to take into account the impact that inflation can have on your numbers. For instance, when someone tells you Gone With the Wind earned its studio “only” $32 million during its original release, you have to remember that’s $32 million in 1939 dollars — adjusted for inflation, the film remains the box-office champ (just ahead of Avatar and Star Wars). Meanwhile, the first Superman film earned just over $134 million at the domestic box office during its first run, a number that would be closer to $492 million today (its worldwide take of $300.2 million translates to $1.1 billion in today’s dollars). Same with 1989’s Batman; $251 million in 1989 dollars is equal to about $482 million today. Beyond the numbers, the first Batman and Superman movies were each massive pop-culture events, with Tim Burton’s Batman responsible for an estimated $750 million in Batman merchandising in the months leading up to and following the film’s release. It’s too soon to tell what the final tally for BvS merchandise will be, but considering how the movie is about to be eclipsed by Captain America: Civil War, X-Men: Apocalypse, Finding Dory, Ghostbusters and a few other highly anticipated films, each with their own major merchandising deals to brag about… well, let’s just say you won’t see a whole lot of BvS action figures on toy shelves by the end of summer.
9. …vs. Superman Returns (2006)
|Opening weekend multiplier for Superman Returns:||3.81|
|Opening weekend multiplier for BvS:||1.96|
Another way of looking at how well a movie performs is by looking at multipliers. In simplest terms, a multiplier is the total gross divided by the film’s opening weekend receipts. This figure tells us something about a movie’s legs (how long a film lasts in theatres) and its overall success past opening weekend; multipliers typically range from 1 (very low) to 10 (very high). BvS opened big and, as we’ve seen, dropped huge in its second weekend, earning almost $325.5 million domestically at the time I write this, with $166 million of that on opening day. That gives us a weekend multiplier of 1.96, or close to 2x. Superman Returns — a movie seen as a modest failure that forced Warner Bros. to reboot the franchise — earned $200 million domestically with a $52-million opening weekend, giving it a multiplier of 3.81. Granted, BvS is still in theatres and will make a little more money before it’s gone, but most analysts are predicting it will top out at $330 million, especially with Captain America: Civil War about to displace it as the season’s big superhero movie. Just for fun, here are a few more multipliers to put BvS’s performance in perspective:
Jonah Hex: 1.96
Batman v Superman: 1.96
Hulk (2003): 2.13
Fantastic Four (2015): 2.18
Amazing Spider-Man 2: 2.21
X-Men: Last Stand: 2.28
As for the other big comic-based blockbusters, you’ve got The Dark Knight at 3.38, The Avengers at 3.00, Age of Ultron at 2.4, and Guardians of the Galaxy at 3.53.
(1994’s The Mask is an example of a comic-book film with huge legs, earning a multiplier of 5.19 during the course of its run; 1997’s Men in Black was another high scorer with a multiplier of 4.9. Then you have films like Titanic, which ran for months in theatres and earned an incredible 23x its opening weekend gross before it was done. To be fair, though, it’s a lot harder for modern-day blockbuster films to score highly because of the intense marketing push that goes into driving up opening-weekend numbers.)
There are no two ways around it: BvS can claim a huge opening and decent foreign numbers, but in terms of having “legs” it’s way back in the pack next to the likes of Steel and Jonah Hex.
10. …vs. The Mask (1994)
|Estimated production budget/worldwide gross for The Mask:||$23 million / $352 million|
|Estimated production budget/worldwide gross for BvS:||$250 million / $860 million|
A film that earns a billion dollars is a hit… unless that film cost you almost a billion dollars to make. Green Lantern made $220 million in theatres, but it was considered a bust because it cost the studio $200 million to make (and that’s not counting promotional and other non-production costs). Movies are made to make money, and one good way to measure how well they do that is to look at how much money it took to make the movie compared to how much money it earned. By that measure, 1994’s The Mask did very well for its investors, earning back more than 15x its production budget. On the other hand, if we assume that $250 million was the only money spent on the movie (which it wasn’t, if we can believe reports that say the bill, including marketing and promotional costs, was closer to $400 million), BvS has so far earned back about 3.4x its budget (if we’re comparing apples to apples, The Avengers earned almost 7x its production budget). True, earning $860 million means the movie isn’t the massive flop that some of its critics predicted it would be, and you can bet someone at Warner Bros. will make some money off it when the final receipts are counted. But from a purely return-on-investment standpoint, given all that BvS had going for it, investors would be right to ask why they didn’t see a higher return on their investment.
11. …vs. The Jungle Book (2016)
|Third-weekend gross for The Jungle Book:||$43,714,706|
|Third-weekend gross for BvS:||$23,363,079|
Mowgli’s not a superhero per se, but any kid who survives that long in a jungle with panthers and tigers and bears (oh my!) is a hero in my book. This was the first major film to go into wide release after BvS landed in theatres in March, and it easily claimed the No. 1 spot the week it was released, earning $103 million to fourth-place BvS’s $9 million and change. As of this writing, it holds the sixth-highest third-weekend gross of all time, beating out Avengers: Age of Ultron, Iron Man 3, The Dark Knight Rises… and, yes, Batman v Superman. And sure, Jungle Book has some impressive visuals and it’s a crowd-pleasing adventure by a director (Iron Man’s Jon Favreau) who knows a thing or two about giving audiences what they want. But it’s a little mind-boggling to consider Jungle Book is doing almost double BvS’s performance at the three-week mark in its run. Also beating BvS in the third-weekend-gross sweepstakes? A lot of movies you might expect to see, like Avatar and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and a lot of others you might not: Meet the Fockers, Shrek the Third, Puss in Boots, Alvin and the Chipmunks. That’s right, the people who made Alvin and the Chipmunks can claim their film was better at something than Batman v Superman. That is honestly a statement I thought I would never have to write. And yet here we are. Question now is, where does the franchise go from here?