‘The Batman’ Can’t Save the Box Office Alone

Warner Bros.’ the marketing folks dropped a minute ad for The Batman during last weekend’s NBA All-Star Game. I’ve been a little curious about previous trailers, and especially how they’ve often played me like a Chris Nolan remake. Batman begins. As such, I must note that the ad is the best and most exciting piece of marketing I’ve seen so far for the Matt Reeves-directed film. Maybe it’s just the music, the less frenetic cutting and luscious sensibilities playing less “Sydney Lumet” and more “Abel Ferrara.” Certainly, I prefer Night falls in Manhattan for king of new yorkbut i will be happy if The Batman differs accordingly. Anyway, the problem is not the size The Batman will open, but that much of its potential competition has gone. The Dark Knight cannot sustain an entire industry.

Alas, STX moved Jason Statham/Aubrey Plaza from Guy Ritchie with Operation Fortune: Ruse of War out of its March 18 slot, apparently due to confidence in action-comedy (coupled with a lack of confidence, thanks Death on the Nile, among older moviegoers). STX also sold Chris Pine’s The contractor at Showtime. They’re still two working studio programmers who won’t open in theaters in March and April. Meanwhile, two of the next three weekends were already mostly vacant. Now, February 25, March 11, and March 18 are almost completely devoid of “big” full-scale releases. We have a Foo Fighters horror movie (Workshop 666) this weekend, absolutely nothing on March 11 and Ti West’s 70-set horror film X March 18. It’s all but Lionsgate and Zachary Levi’s The Unbreakable Boy (which hopes to replicate the $24 million success of American Underdog) on March 18.

I understand studios’ reluctance to come up with important movies right before and right after a big Batman movie. Hellboy II opened with $35 million to plunge 71% over weekend two vs. The black Knightthe first record of 158 million dollars, while The X-Files: I Want to Believe opened with just $10 million during Black Knight’s $75 million in the second weekend. However, we must remember that Mama Mia! Opened with $27 million vs. The black Knight and made $144 million domestically (while only making $5 million less than Chris Nolan’s sequel overseas). X-files failed, but the Will Ferrell/John C. Reilly comedy Half brothers opened in late July 2008 with $30 million. Alas, the comedy star has since become an endangered species, even if the first real competition is now that of Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum. The lost city March 25.

I’ll be thrilled if a lack of competition means Paramount must succeed (for the sake of the entire “just one movie” theater industry) rom-com opens wide and legs bigger than it otherwise would have . However, the biggest threat to movie theaters right now isn’t necessarily Covid, but rather too many studios prioritizing streaming gains even against “cash in hand” theatrical success. Considering Illumination and Universal Sing 2 just crossed $333 million worldwide, there’s little business/situational reason Disney sent Pixar (allegedly good enough) turn red at Disney+. I would credit/blame Bob Chapek and his friends prioritizing the perception of streaming success (and using Pixar’s esteemed artistic reputation) for an impatient Wall Street. In both cases, turn red is another potentially huge movie that won’t hit domestic theaters next month. The Batman will single-handedly be responsible for a month of domestic box office.

Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction opened almost unopposed in late June 2014. Due to presumption that the fourth film would crush the box office, the previous week saw only the small-scale likes of Think like a man too and Boys jersey while the usually lucrative 4th of July weekend saw only Melissa McCarthy Tammie and fantasy targeting children From earth to echo. The age of extinction topped $1 billion globally, but underperformed slightly in North America, earning $240 million on a Friday-Sunday weekend of “only” $100 million. (Revenge of the damned won $200 million over five days in June 2009). The expected power of Transformers 4 left a crater in the domestic box office from late June to late July, leading to a whole summer of media chatter about how the domestic box office was down from the summer of 2013.

The real “crisis” mainly concerned the probable successes of the summer of 2014 Furious 7, Fifty Shades of Gray and The Good Dinosaur moving on to 2015 with little else to take their place, but the situation should have been a warning to put all your theatrical eggs in one basket. This became a trickier subject as studios began to more aggressively release potential tent poles throughout the year, something no doubt popularized by Warner Bros. success in early October 2013 with Gravity ($723 million) then the success of Disney in early April with Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($714 million). The possible downside was when a huge critical/commercial success in all quadrants like Fox’s The Martian ($630 million in October 2015) or Disney Black Panther ($1.46 billion in February 2018), would result in a month of big spending. The films that have held up alongside Black Panther (Game Night, Peter Rabbit, I can only imagine) were opposite the tent poles.

Hollywood partially responded by giving larger tent poles more leeway out of season (hence Godzilla: King of the Monsters passage from March to May 2019). But the slight underperformance of Glass ($111 million for the domestic market versus $137 million for To divide) and outright disaster of lego movie 2 ($101 million domestic vs $257 million for its predecessor) left the industry waiting Captain Marvel to save them. After two years of pandemic-hit box office, we have a scenario where, at least until April, the whole industry has (except for October and maybe November of last year) been based on one or two movies. August was all about The Suicide Squad and free guy (the first of which dropped), September was all about Shang Chi, December was all about Spider-Man: No Coming Home and Sing 2 and January was (after Sony’s move Morbius to April) all about Yell.

Sure The Batman plays like the second coming of The dark knight rises (a $160 million opening and $448 million in the domestic market) or Captain Marvel ($155m/$425m), so great. But what if it only plays like suicide squad ($133 million/$325 million) or Steel man ($128m/$291m)? It would be good for The Batman, especially if it’s well-received and has post-debut legs (more likely due to lack of competition). But that would basically be it in terms of overall domestic box office. And if he plays “only” well, like for example Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($259 million vs. $95 million), well, that’s a problem for an industry hoping for a Spider-Man: No Coming Home-level miracle because everything else came out of hell. Because in terms of four quadrant tent poles, The Batman is *it* until April.

I am expecting sonic the hedgehog 2 to mark April 15 as audiences loved the first one and Knuckles and Tails are high value items. However, it would be a considerable success at Sing 2at the box office level. Jared Leto Morbius and JK Rowling Fantastic Beasts: Dumbledore’s Secrets are commercially questionable. In a normal world, say WB’s 2018 (and early 2019) slate, amidst a healthy theater industry with WB leading the way Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Shazam while audiences still turn up for the “regular” films, The Batman would be a victory lap. But now, in 2022, with the 2020 and 2021 slates marred by Covid and “Project Popcorn,” The Batman is responsible for essentially “saving” DC Films, Warner Bros. and the entire theater industry. I’m sure it will be a hit, but that alone can’t save the box office.

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