With studios now spending nearly as much for marketing blockbusters as they do on the actual movies these days, a return on investment for these tentpoles is more important than ever.
And with Warner Bros.’ “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” opening in theatres virtually everywhere around the world this weekend, the stakes are high for the studio. Especially if you believe the rumours of how much the company has put into it.
The anticipated showdown between Henry Cavill’s Superman and Ben Affleck’s Batman launches a planned franchise based on the DC Comics characters, which Warner hopes could be as massively profitable as Disney’s Marvel universe.
To achieve that, Warner Bros. would have to spend like Disney, and word around the industry is that by the time the movie is out this weekend, it will cost the studio around $400 million to release.
It’s not such an insane number when you break it down. If the production budget for “Batman v Superman” is in line with previous Warner superhero movies (“The Dark Knight Rises” and “Man of Steel“) then it’s $225-$250 million (the studio has not commented on how much the movie costs). Disney spent $250 million to make “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”
If you then add the usual $150 million for worldwide marketing that studios spend on a movie of this size, that gets you to around the $400 million figure.
To keep the studio in the black on the film, it must be released far and wide. “Batman v Superman” is opening in the US in over 4,000 locations by Friday (rarely done for a movie not being released over the summer) and it’s going to the world’s largest movie market behind the US, China. Often studios won’t open a film there until later due to regulatory issues and the fear of piracy, but Warner Bros. is going against the grain and hoping for a big payoff.
Early projections estimate the film’s global box office to be at $350 million (it will be released on 35,000 screens worldwide) by the time Easter weekend is over.
That would be more than “The Dark Knight Rises” or “Man of Steel” opened with, but below movies like “Age of Ultron” ($392.5 million), “Jurassic World,” ($524.9 million), or all-time earner “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” ($529 million).
But looking outside of the all-important opening weekend, the movie also has to have staying power.
All the above titles, except for one, grossed over $1 billion worldwide in their respective theatrical runs, and to play in the Disney sandbox, Warner Bros. has to hit that number with “Batman v Superman.”
On paper, it looks very possible, but the one thing that could hurt the movie is word of mouth, which could become poisoned if fans agree with critics who have been down on the film.
Critics don’t make or break a movie of this size, but if, after this weekend, audiences globally think how the critics do (the movie has a current rating of 33% on Rotten Tomatoes), that affects repeat trips or people who were waiting to see it after the insanity of opening weekend. Which then makes it harder to hit that $1 billion mark.
The one title above that didn’t make $1 billion is “Man of Steel,” Warner Bros.’ previous DC movie that introduced us to Cavill as Superman. Directed by Zack Snyder, who also helmed “Batman v Superman,” the movie had a good opening weekend of $116 million on 4,207 theatres, but then shot down 64.6% in ticket sales its next weekend on the same number of screens. Again, due to poor reviews and word of mouth.
Warner Bros. is hoping history doesn’t repeat itself. If it does, Disney will still look like the winner.
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