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‘Justice League’ Box Office: Why a $96-Million Opening Means Trouble

Overall box office is good -- but Warners and DC are looking at shortfalls on "Justice League."

“Justice League”

Warner Bros.

DC Comics’ “Justice League” (Warner Bros.) opened to just shy of $100 million. That makes it the seventh best opening for 2017, just $7 million shy of DC’s “Wonder Woman,” which would seem a reasonable box-office launch.

But the movie marks a disappointment in relation to its $300-million production cost–before worldwide marketing expenses. Yet again, DC and Warners seem to be whiffing this crucial Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman franchise at bat against rival Disney/Marvel– which just delivered a home run with “Thor: Ragnarok.”

Nonetheless “Justice League” boosted the weekend — with help from a surprisingly strong showing for family heart-tugger “Wonder” (Lionsgate) — to more than $200 million total box office. That’s more than $40 million ahead of last year, when “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” debuted to $79 million.

Boasting a robust ensemble of familiar superheroes and fresh franchise entries including Aquaman, the epic was expected to reach $110 million or better. Marvel’s three titles this year – “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “Thor: Ragnarok,” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” all had better openings ($146 million, $123 million, $117 million respectively). Instead “Justice League” fell far short of all of the above as well as “Wonder Woman,” which remains the biggest domestic comics film this year.

“Thor: Ragnarok”

What went wrong with ‘Justice League’

Comic book movie fatigue may have set in after several strong titles. And “Justice League” followed only two weeks after “Thor: Ragnarok” (which dropped 61 per cent against its new rival this weekend). And “Justice League” was slammed by reviews that were much worse than its 2017 DC and Marvel predecessors.

While the rivalry between Marvel and DC fans is overstated (a core of each does prefer its favorite), both producers have traditionally scored big results. Marvel remains slightly ahead in per film results, with far more offerings. So it’s a major blow for DC/Warners that “Justice League,” with its enormous expense, is falling far short of the third entry in the “Thor” subset of Marvel’s world.

It’s a bad sign that Saturday was down 15 per cent from Friday, a bigger second-day fall than the single digit drop for either “Thor: Ragnarok” or “Wonder Woman.” With Japan the only major territory to not yet open, “Justice League” has taken in $185 million since its mid-week start in some territories.

“Justice League”

Screenshot

Foreign is tricky to extrapolate, but the numbers are substantially down from the start of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” in spring 2016. That ended up at $543-million overseas, as “Justice League” will struggle to reach a half billion. Domestic, even with Thanksgiving next week (followed by the deadly early December period) looks unlikely to hit $250 million based on early results.

That would leave a worldwide total of at most $750 million. But the production and marketing combined investment might easily reach $450 million. That means at the end of the day most likely the profit will be well below what was anticipated.

And this is key for both Warners and DC. The studio has been hit and miss this year. “It” was a massive moneymaker (with about the tenth of the “Justice League” budget), while “Geostorm” marked an expensive dud. “Blade Runner 2049” was a distribution deal with no investment.

Warners shared strong success with DC on “Wonder Woman,” but at the end of the day both needed “Justice League” at double the cost to break out far more. Instead, worldwide it is likely to total less.

Where this really falls short of Marvel is in comparison with “The Avengers.” That film brought together most of the Marvel universe and also introduced new characters. It opened in May 2012 to an adjusted opening weekend of $228 million, more than double what DC’s roughly equivalent effort did.

That’s a brutal shortfall. And more so when the success of “The Avengers” has been the foundation for most subsequent Marvel titles. That’s what “Justice League” was meant to do for DC. Warners’ upcoming release schedule is top heavy with DC titles, from “Aquaman” next Christmas to “Wonder Woman 2” just under a year later, and many more. So they will need to do some heavy rethinking.

Wonder Jacob Tremblay

“Wonder”

Watch out for ‘Coco’

Then there’s “Wonder.” While “Justice League” drew decidedly male (58 per cent, with overall 69 per cent of its audience over 25), “Wonder” skewed strongly female at 68 per cent. This is what is called successful counterprogramming.

The adaptation of the bestseller about a fifth-grade boy (“Room” star Jacob Tremblay) dealing with a facial deformity had a strong marketing campaign aimed at schools (including some group sales efforts). But although that can boost an opening day number out of proportion to the rest of the weekend, “Wonder” actually climbed six per cent on Saturday, and earned a rare A+ Cinemascore. Suddenly, it’s positioned, with Thanksgiving giving a boost short term –until the arrival of Pixar juggernaut “Coco” on Wednesday– and then some Christmas playtime to reach an unexpected $100 million. That brings nice profits with a $20-million production cost.

Ruth (Aidy Bryant), Bo (Steven Yeun) an Dave (Keegan-Michael Key) in Sony Pictures Animations' THE STAR.

“The Star”

Sony Pictures Animation

“The Star” (Sony), a Christmas animated title from faith-based Affirm, managed $10 million. That’s middling at best, although the 46 per cent Saturday jump as well as holiday positioning will help the film hold matinees at some theaters through the holidays and could give it a good multiple. Then again, it faces “Coco.”

Kenneth Branagh stars in Twentieth Century Fox’s “Murder on the Orient Express.”

“Murder on the Orient Express”

Photo Credit: Nicola Dove

Holdovers

Other than the deep drop for “Thor: Ragnarok,” business among holdovers was normal. Last week’s two openers “Daddy’s Home 2” (Paramount) and “Murder on the Orient Express” (20th Century Fox) both dropped around 50 per cent, normal second weekend falls. “A Bad Moms Christmas” (STX) kept its third weekend drop to just under 40 per cent, giving it a lease on life for likely a few more weeks and a possible $80 million total, not bad for this lower-budgeted sequel.

Both “Lady Bird” (A24) and “Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (Fox Searchlight) cracked the Top Ten early in their runs. Both are showing impressive numbers, but their totals are below what normally qualifies for the chart. The low-end tapered off enough that “The Exterminating Angel,” a Fathom live Met Opera event with a single Saturday showing, came in a #11 and came close to making the list.

“A Bad Moms Christmas”

The Top Ten

1. Justice League (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic: 46;Est. budget: $300 million

$96,000,000 in 4,051 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $23,698; Cumulative: $96,000,000

2. Wonder (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: A+; Metacritic: 67; Est. budget: $20 million

$27,050,000 in 3,096 theaters; PTA: $8,737; Cumulative: $27,050,000

3. Thor: Ragnarok (Disney) Week 3; Last weekend #1

$21,786,000 (-62%) in 4,080 theaters (no change); PTA: $5,340; Cumulative: $247,382,000

4. Daddy’s Home 2 Week 2; Last weekend #2

$14,800,000 (-50%) in 3,575 theaters (no change); PTA: $4,140; Cumulative: $50,576,000

5. Murder on the Orient Express (20th Century Fox) Week 2; Last weekend #3

$13,800,000 (-52%) in 3,354 theaters (+13); PTA: $4,114; Cumulative: $51,728,000

6. The Star (Sony) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Metacritic: 43; Est. budget: $20 million

$10,000,000 in 2,837 theaters; PTA: $3,525; Cumulative: $10,000,000

7. A Bad Moms Christmas (STX) Week 3; Last weekend #4

$6,890,000 (-40%) in 2,948 theaters (-667); PTA: $2,337; Cumulative: $50,912,000

8. Lady Bird (A24) Week 3; Last weekend #10

$2,530,000 (+111%) in 238 theaters (+201); PTA: $10,630; Cumulative: $4,702,000

9. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (20th Century Fox) Week 2; Last weekend #27

$1,115,000 (+246%) in 53 theaters (+49); PTA: $21,038; Cumulative: $1,545,000

10. Jigsaw (Lionsgate) Week 4; Last weekend #5

$1,070,000 (-69%) in 1,201 theaters (-1,450); PTA: $891; Cumulative: $36,450,000

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