Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – What’s the Box Office Potential?

Will Zack Snyder's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice set box office records?

Almost two and a half years since it was announced at Comic-Con in San Diego, Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will finally see the light of day on March 25. While there are fewer questions of what to expect from it than there were back then, one mystery remains among the Monday morning bean counters, and that’s how much the movie might make both opening weekend and overall.

It would be daunting enough if it was only having to follow films like Marvel’s The Avengers and its sequel, as well as 2015’s enormous box office blockbusters, Jurassic World and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But now it’s also coming out just six weeks after Deadpool, an R-rated superhero film that has far exceeded all expectations and is a few days away from hitting $300 million domestic.

For the sake of sanity, we’ll stick with domestic box office in this analysis, because there are too many factors involved with trying to figure out how well it might do overseas: everything from staggered releases to marketing, to the unique circumstances of different regions.

Although Marvel Studios has proven to be the king of the superhero blockbuster ever since adapting their own properties with 2008’s Iron Man, Warner Bros. has a much longer history with bringing DC Comics characters to the screen.  (Fun fact: 1966’s Batman: The Movie, which was based on the popular television show starring Adam West, was released by 20th Century Fox.)

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Warner’s attempts can be traced back to the 1978 Richard Donner Superman: The Movie starring Christopher Reeve, which grossed $134 million—really not bad for those times—and Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie, which was also a huge hit when it grossed  $251 million in theaters.

Both of those movies’ potential franchises were driven into the ground with weak sequels, but that didn’t stop Warner Bros. from trying other attempts at bringing DC’s two biggest heroes back to the screen. Bryan Singer’s 2006 Superman Returns and Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins from a year earlier were two more attempts to revive the characters, with both of them making around $200 million domestically. Yet, only the latter warranted a sequel with 2008’s The Dark Knight setting a new (albeit short-lived) opening record of $158 million. It went on to gross $533 million and its sequel grossed $448 million domestically.

Zack Snyder, helmer of Watchmen and 300, was the next filmmaker to try his hand at reviving Superman with Man of Steel (executive produced by Nolan), which opened with $117 million and grossed nearly $300 million overall. (Another fun fact: Man of Steel was Snyder’s very first summer release, having released all of his other movies during the spring or winter seasons, and having helped pave the way for studios to release bigger tentpoles in March like 300.)

It was only a matter of time before someone at Warner Bros. realized the best way to keep their DC Comics characters alive was to put Batman and Superman into the same movie, and Dawn of Justice will be the first time ever that Batman and Superman will be onscreen together, which is crazy when you realize they’ve both been in existence for over 75 years.

And while they’re at it, why not build up to a Justice League movie featuring even more characters? It worked for Marvel Studios’ with the way they built up to 2012’s The Avengers, after all.

For all intents and purposes, Dawn of Justice is a direct sequel to Man of Steel because it follows most of the events that took place in that movie and is the driving force behind why Batman shows up in Metropolis to confront Superman.

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Being a follow-up to Man of Steel, most of that cast is back, including Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Superman, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Diane Lane as Martha Kent, and Laurence Fishburne as Perry White. None of them have really been helped much by their appearances in Snyder’s first movie with Cavill, but the Kal-El star is also the only one who didn’t already have an established movie star career before 2013.

As far as the sequel’s new cast, the most significant actor is Ben Affleck playing the other half of the equation: Bruce Wayne aka Batman.  This isn’t Affleck’s first rodeo as a superhero as he played Matt Murdock/Daredevil in 20th Century Fox’s failed attempt to create a new superhero franchise around the blind vigilante in 2003. The reaction to Affleck’s portrayal was slightly less than favorable, so when he was announced to play the Caped Crusader, reactions were mixed at best… but mostly negative. Comic book fans don’t forgive easily, although some tunes were changed as Snyder and Warner Bros. released more promo materials and pictures from the movie.

Twelve to 13 years ago, Ben Affleck would be considered box office poison thanks to dogs like Gigli and Surviving Christmas, but his status changed when he followed the likes of Clint Eastwood and Kevin Costner into directing. His directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, forced moviegoers to take Affleck more seriously as a filmmaker, and he followed that with The Town and Argo, both films that were well-reviewed and decent-sized hits for Affleck.

The latter, an Iran-based period movie, also did especially well at the box office as it ran the awards season gauntlet all the way to Oscar night where it won Best Picture. (For some odd reason, Affleck wasn’t even nominated as Best Director, a true Oscar anomaly since the director of the Best Picture almost always receives at least a nomination.)

Argo has put Affleck back in demand as an actor, and Snyder’s superhero flick was one of the first things the star signed onto following his Oscar win, also taking on the role of uncredited screenwriter along with his Oscar-winning Argo collaborator, Chris Terrio. The idea is that Affleck’s Wayne would be older, similar to the character in Frank Miller’s graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, which was an ersatz prototype for the movie.  Warner Bros. is also hoping to bring Affleck over into his own series of Batman movies, which he may also be involved with as a writer and possibly a director.

The sad fact though is that how Affleck plays Wayne/Batman will probably make or break Batman v Superman, because Batman is still a much more popular character than Superman among the general population. Who knows why this is, but you can’t deny the numbers of how The Dark Knight movies fared compared to Man of Steel.

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Another big factor in this face-off is the introduction of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, and she plays a much larger role in the film than anyone originally expected. This is likely because a solo Wonder Woman movie is already in production as Warner’s next release after Suicide Squad this coming summer. There are also rumors Batman v Superman might include a tease for Suicide Squad since that movie will feature Jared Leto as the latest version of Batman arch-nemesis, The Joker.

Another big addition to the cast is Jesse Eisenberg as the latest incarnation of Lex Luthor, following in the footsteps of Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey. Those previous actors had won Oscars by the time they took on the role of the evil billionaire genius, while Eisenberg’s biggest movie to date is David Fincher’s The Social Network for which he was nominated for playing a not-quite-as-evil-billionaire, Mark Zuckerberg.

Things aren’t all roses for Snyder’s latest superhero epic though, as there are many factors working against it, some of them being the fans themselves, who are seriously worried about everything: the portrayal of Luthor by Eisenberg; the choice of skinny model Gadot for Wonder Woman; and how the movie seems to be making Superman even darker than he was in Man of Steel (that did not go over well with the fans of Superman from the comics!).

Anyone who has read comics more than passingly will know the reason the pairing of the two DC heroes works so well is because they’re polar opposites in terms of their demeanor and how they fight crime. Making them both dark for the movie poses problems, not just for fanboys but also for parents with smaller kids that might be Batman or Superman fans from the kid-friendly cartoons.

Will they be nervous about taking their children to see this movie, thereby losing a lot of potential business? Probably not, because its PG-13 rating should be fair warning not to bring kids under 10.  (Fun fact: Deadpools R-rating did little to keep parents from bringing their younger kids to see the movie.)

Adding fuel to this exact fire was the announcement that the movie would be released on DVD and Blu-ray with a presumably more violent R-rated version, getting many people worried about the content of the movie.

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In the past, opening a movie in March might make it seem like a studio didn’t have much confidence in a movie, but as mentioned earlier, Snyder’s earlier film 300 played a large part in studios being open to releasing movies in “off months.”

Lionsgate released the original The Hunger Games in March 2012 where it opened with $152.5 million (the third highest opening ever at the time) and over $400 million total. It still holds the record for a March opening, and it’s the number that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is going to try to surpass.

You’re probably about to say “But aren’t kids in school in March?”  Well, they would be except that Batman v Superman opens over Easter weekend, which means that Friday is Good Friday, so there’s no school and a lot of people get off from work as well. This will mean that the movie can do a ton of business on Thursday night and Friday but will also probably be frontloaded with less business on Easter Sunday.

But one important piece of information we don’t have right now are reviews since few have seen the final movie. At this point, we have no idea how critics or fans might react to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, although reactions to Man of Steel were mixed with 56 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Chances are that expectations are going to be so huge that online fanboy critics may be more receptive… or more critical. Older veteran print critics who aren’t huge fans of the comic book characters may not be having any of it, period.

The movie certainly is in danger of suffering from the same problems suffered by Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 by trying to introduce too many new characters at once, although that didn’t hurt the former’s box office or the reviews

We can crunch the numbers all day long, but when it comes down to it, there’s nothing to do but make an educated guess based on all the information at our disposal.

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The Good Friday holiday will help the movie make around $65 million or more its opening (including Thursday previews) and $150 to 155 million seems like it should be the low-end opening for the movie, which is in the same general ballpark of Nolan’s Dark Knight movies.  (Let’s face it. Snyder just doesn’t have the same admiration and adulation among comic and movie fans as Nolan, although the name-brand value of the heroes will help to bring in business.)

We’ve seen a lot of blockbusters opening with more than $100 million over the past few years and three were able to cross the $200 million since 2012, so anything below $150 million might seem like a disappointment to Warner Bros. Chances are they’ll be happy if they can just break The Hunger Games’ March record, and that may not be so hard with so much anticipation to see Superman take on Batman, especially with the still lingering box office love for the latter.

Either way, we’ll have to see what the early reactions are to the movie to see whether it ends up with $300 million in total domestic or closer to $400 million or higher. It should benefit from not having much in terms of competition for most of the month of April at least, but when Captain America: Civil War opens in early May, Warner Bros. will be very glad that they got away from the face-off they were once planning against Marvel Studios’ latest since that will almost definitely open higher and gross more this summer.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice opens on March 25.

How much do you think BvS will make its opening weekend and overall? Will it surpass The Hunger Games numbers? Post your predictions in the comments below.