For the third time in the first quarter of 2016, a major new tentpole is outpacing sky-high expectations. DC franchise reboot "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" (Warner Bros.) is working with audiences (if not critics), for some of the same reasons as "Deadpool," "Zootopia" and "10 Cloverfield Lane." The recent recipe for success and failure seems clear: make the familiar seem fresh, or deliver a been-there-done-that retread. "BvS" is the third release of 2016 that should soar well past $300 million. This performed like a mid-summer movie, even though spring has just begun.
But the second-day falloff and second weekend numbers foretell the final tale for $250-million-plus "BvS," which with marketing costs needs to score $800 million worldwide to do its job as a studio blockbuster.
"BvS" and its stats deserve attention (see Takeaway below), but it isn’t the whole story. Led by its stellar performance, this Easter weekend is not only the best for the holiday ever, but even adjusting for inflation, it’s the best Top Ten weekend ever between January and April, with $247 million in tickets sold (up 14% from early April 2015’s Easter weekend, when "Furious 7" grossed $147 million). Whatever the worries from uneven film performance and some big early year flops (not all studios are sharing the bounty), this has been a great first quarter.
The rest of the Top Ten came in ahead of last year’s also-rans, with the exception of 2015’s strong second weekend of "Home." The 2016 pack are either bonafide hits or low-budgeted enough to be considered decent, with one big miss. "The Divergent Series: Allegiant" fell hard after a soft opening.
Details on the weekend numbers are below the chart.
The Top Ten
1. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Warner Bros) NEW – Cinemascore: B ; Criticwire: C-; Metacritic: 44; est. budget: $250 million
$170,100,000 in 4,242 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $40,099; Cumulative: $170,100,000
2. Zootopia (Buena Vista) Week 4; Last weekend #1
$23,138,000 (-38%) in 2,670 theaters (-289); PTA: $6,305; Cumulative: $240,547,000
3. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: A- ; Criticwire: C; Metacritic: 38; est. budget: $18 million
$18,120,000 in 3,133 theaters; PTA: $5,784; Cumulative: $18,120,000
4. (tied) The Divergent Series: Allegiant (Lionsgate) Week 2; Last weekend #2
$9,500,000 (-67%) in 3,740 theaters (no change); PTA: $2,540; Cumulative: $46,605,000
4. (tied) Miracles from Heaven (Sony) Week 2; Last weekend #3
$9,500,000 (-36%) in 3,407 theaters (no change); PTA: $3,118; Cumulative: $34,127,000
6. 10 Cloverfield Lane (Paramount) Week 3; Last weekend #4
$6,000,000 (-52%) in 2,802 theaters (-625); PTA: $2,141; Cumulative: $56,011,000
7. Deadpool (20th Century Fox) Week 6; Last weekend #5
$5,000,000 (-38%) in 2,336 theaters (-588); PTA: $2,140; Cumulative: $349,572,000
8. London Has Fallen (Focus) Week 4; Last weekend #6
$2,926,000 (-57%) in 2,173 theaters (-838); PTA: $1,347; Cumulative: $55,615,000
9. Hello, My Name Is Doris (Roadside Attractions) Week 3; Last weekend #14
$1,701,000 (+70%) in 488 theaters (+360); PTA: $3,486; Cumulative: $3,269,000
10. Eye in the Sky (Bleecker Street) Week 3; Last weekend #21
$1,001,000 (+137%) in 123 theaters (+88); PTA: $8,140; Cumulative: $1,723,000
"Batman V Superman" Records in Context
It is huge. The biggest actual pre-May opening weekend ever and adjusted (beating the first "Hunger Games" in latter figures by $3 million). In actuals it is Warners’ top opener (although "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows" and "The Dark Knight Rises" adjusted beat it, both prime mid-July releases). It’s the best Easter weekend ever on any scale, about $30 million ahead of previous record holder 2015.
But remember, the awesome gross was enhanced by 3D and IMAX surcharges. About 40% of the gross (around a third of the tickets sold) came from 3D admissions, and 11% from IMAX. That means "Furious 7"— not exactly the zeitgeist-centered effort that "BvS" is, and not in 3D — likely drew about as many ticket buyers last year, and "Hunger Games," also not 3D and a franchise starter, also drew more people.
The great end result is a gross about even with the previous "Batman" entry, Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated trilogy-ending "The Dark Knight Rises," and about 50% better than the Zack Snyder’s "Superman" film, "Man of Steel" (a summer release). Considering "BvS" is missing the Nolan element that gave his "Batman" films so much elevated attention, along with largely negative reviews (well below many of the top DC Comics and Marvel films), this is as good as Warners’ could have wished for—the worldwide opening total is already $424 million.
The measure of ongoing strength for a movie is the second-day falloff. While 38% is steep compared to similar juggernauts (although "The Dark Knight Rises" fell 41%), "BvS" earned a mediocre Cinemascore of B (the opening day audience survey company grades on a very easy scale), which means this is a front-loaded film. Friday’s semi-holiday is one excuse for a bigger than average drop. We have yet to see for sure if audience response isn’t what Warners hoped for. But so far, there’s no clear sign that the public is as down on this as the press.
Does anyone remember the immediate negative social media response when Ben Affleck was cast to replace Christian Bale? The role has not always been a high point in a respected actor’s career. George Clooney, who was eight years younger than Affleck’s 43 when he first played the role, has made a running gag about his discomfort with the costume. But Affleck’s career choices of late have been outstanding: his Oscar winning "Argo," lead (and tricky) role in "The Gone Girl," an even bigger hit, and now this. And it comes after his "Good Will Hunting" collaborator Matt Damon scored in both "Interstellar" and "The Martian" (the latter a star vehicle). That’s not bad for two guys who hit it big in their mid 20s and may not have reached the peak of their appeal. "BvS" likely would have been a hit (or at least opened) with any of a number of actors in the role, but the fanboys don’t always set the tone for what the larger public thinks.
Warner Bros. Is Back
The weekend gross for "BvS" is greater than any of the studio’s 2015 releases did for their entire domestic runs. "San Andreas," "Mad Max: Fury Road" and "Creed" all were solid performers, but their year was littered with often expensive duds like "Jupiter Ascending," "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.," "Pan," "Point Break" and "In the Heart of the Sea."
It’s been a bad run overall for what has been one of the most reliable and consistent hits providers. Even in somewhat weaker years, in part because of a bigger release schedule than most studios, Warners have usually scored high in share of gross—third place the past two years, first as recently as 2013, and no lower than third since 2006.
Among its assets has been the consistency and executive steadiness at the top—ex-execs Terry Semel & Bob Daly and later Alan Horn & Jeff Robinov spearheaded the comics franchise strategy that now dominates the industry ("Superman" in 1978 and then "Batman" in 1989). DC Comics is their crucial partner, and they put a lot on the line making sure their usually reliable marketing and distribution entities performed as expected. Making both Superman and Batman seem fresh was a tall order—although Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) seems to have stolen the show. If this movie becomes a bottom-line success, that will wipe out a lot of the bad taste of recent flops.
Through last weekend, Warners (with very little to show this year thus far) lagged in eighth place for the year – behind Focus Features. What a difference a weekend makes.
"My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" – The Exception to the Rule
A 14 years later sequel (that’s six years more than "Cloverfield" took to reboot, and its sequel made an effort to be a stand alone effort") and a rare "2" in the title (marketers now strenuously avoid that, though "My Bigger, Fatter Greek Wedding" likely didn’t test well) looked like a recipe for suspicion. Yet Universal scored a decent initial success on an $18-million production budget (multiple outside sources paid the bills).
How did this happen?
It appears to be a case of an exception to the rule not dissimilar to the original, as well as the nature of its audience. "Greek Wedding" the first time around is possibly the biggest sleeper success ever (in recent years, only "The Blair Witch Project" is in the same league, and its sequel bombed big time). Unadjusted, it holds the record for the biggest total domestic gross of all time for a film never to hit #1 for a weekend (adjusted, "Gremlins" playing the same summer when "E.T." held the spot for weeks and "Dances With Wolves" with its multi-staged awards run ranked higher). It was a huge word of mouth success, as IFC distribution chief Bob Berney kept adding runs and widening it and finding its best success (#2) four months after its initial release. People loved this movie, and it generated good will that is the envy of all filmmakers.
And the people who loved it most were over 40 years old. Add the time passed, and they are now in their mid-50s and older. And this group is one of the most loyal and steady in responding to a certain kind of movie. (Fox Searchlight’s middle-brow "The Second Most Exotic Marigold Hotel," despite lacking much originality, managed to draw in $33 million last year.)
The combo of Universal’s marketing department and lead actress/writer Nia Vardalos’ promotional skills relit interest for this project. The studio has enjoyed success of late, particularly by targeting the under-served women’s audience ("Pitch Perfect," "50 Shades of Gray," "Trainwreck," "Sisters"). At a time when older and female audiences are stronger than ever, this breakout shouldn’t be a big surprise.
"Allegiant" fell 67%, but that was the exception in a decent weekend. The third "Divergent" entry —Lionsgate has one more left — will struggle to reach $70 million domestic, a poor showing and likely a small loss (international sales and later venues will soften the blow).
The Friday holiday helped "Zootopia" to hit $240 million through its fourth weekend, at the high end of non-summer/late year holiday performance (it fell 38%). "Miracles from Heaven," placed as a faith-based film for seasonal release, seems to have tied "Allegiant" with only a 36% fall. With a $13 million budget and headed for $50 million, it’s a nice double for Sony and its production partner Affirm.
"Deadpool," nearing $350 million, managed to fall only 38% despite "BvS" as competition. New Top Ten entries "Hello, My Name Is Doris" (488 screens) and "Eye on the Sky" (123) show again how older audiences are a crucial part of the mix.