You’ve probably read a fair amount about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice over the past couple weeks, and I don’t have a whole lot of interest in digging any further into that. I mean, ultimately, it’s a super-hero movie with a ton of hype behind it (and several hundred million dollars invested in it), that ended up being about as good a flick as you could have expected it to be, all things considered.
To me, the quality of the film is beside the point. What I noticed, what actually made my eyes pop and forced me to sit down and think about it, was this fascinating fact: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice set a record for the largest ever Friday-to-Sunday drop-off in box office history.
That’s right, it went from an incredible $82 million on Friday to just $37 million on Sunday, a precipitous fall of over 55 percent, obliterating the previous record of 48 percent, set only in August by Fantastic Four. Skeptical about the Easter holiday and how much that affected things? Fine. It still fell off 38 percent from Friday to Saturday, which is only the second worst dip ever (after The Dark Knight Rises, which dropped 40 percent).
So, I guess that’s not so bad, huh? Oh, wait …
There are a couple things to be worried about here, not just in the executive suites at Warner Bros., but also anywhere else in town where actors parading around in spandex are part of the overall business plan. The first is that, while some people talk about a certain movie being critic-proof, there is no such thing as being audience-proof. The overwhelming number of people who saw this movie, even superhero movie-loving comic book geeks like me, didn’t like it.
Not only did we not like it, we told people how much we didn’t like it and they, in turn, stayed away. It might seem strange to say that a movie clearing $166 million in its opening weekend (the seventh-largest opening ever) could be considered a disappointment, but, in fact, I think it is, simply because it could have been — indeed, it should have been — even higher. For instance, if the movie had only fallen off 30 percent on Saturday and 40 on Sunday, it would have brought in an extra $20 million. That’s a lot of coin, I don’t care how big your movie is.
Now, understand that the movie is almost certainly going to make a profit, even though it needs to do at least $800 million worldwide to do so. Consider that it got over halfway there in its opening weekend. Even with the considerable drop — and, indeed, it will continue into next weekend, even without any major competition opening wide — it’ll still get there and will probably break the billion-dollar barrier, so Warner will be in the black, just not by very much.
An issue just as big is what this does to the larger design of the planned shared universe. Marvel has done this exceptionally well, as we know, and after at least one false start by Warner and its DC Comics characters (helloooooo Green Lantern), this movie had untold billions riding on its success, so Warner took a huge swing.
The thing is, they entrusted the future of this series of movies to a filmmaker not exactly known for his character work.
I’m no fan of Zack Snyder’s movies, but I’m not here to throw any more garbage in his direction. I’m just going to point out that, when looking at his oeuvre, it would behoove you to recognize that his particular skill set rests in the visual. Dawn of the Dead, 300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch, these movies all look great, whether you like them or not (for the record, I am only a fan of the first one on the list), but it would be tough to call any of them strong on character development. Man of Steel, in fact, fails at both, draining away color to dull the impact of that iconic blue suit and bright red cape, while also telling a story that doesn’t make much sense.
With this latest movie, the whole idea is to launch a series, thus building off that initial character and introducing more of them in that world. It doesn’t matter that we already know who Batman and Wonder Woman are, we don’t know these versions of them, so there’s a lot that needs to be done, and it wasn’t.
Which brings me to the second part. The same team that brought us this movie that people don’t seem to like is now poised to make the Big Team-Up movie, while also overseeing the other films in the series. Aquaman director James Wan has said that Snyder is giving him input on his project, even as Snyder prepares to start shooting the two-part Justice League film later this month.
I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t give me a lot of confidence in the studio or its overall vision. My guess is that a good chunk of the audience is going to agree, making it that much harder to bring them back the next time around.
There are long conversations we can have about the flawed economic model by which all the studios are working these days — a conversation we have already conducted a fair amount in this space — but without even getting into that, it’s important to remember something they all seem to keep forgetting: You can hype a movie all you like, and it’ll probably get people in the door that first day or two, but to make serious money, you need them to keep coming, which means actually having respect for your audience.
After years of moviegoers suggesting that’s not so important to us, the time may finally have arrived when it has become so.