Is Batman v Superman’s $860 Million a Flop?

Batman V Superman was expected to do Avengers-style numbers. But does the fact that it won't break a billion make it a modern-day flop?

This article originally appeared on Den of Geek UK.

For some people. Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice movie has clearly hit the mark. Sifting through user reviews at the likes of Amazon and the IMDB, there’s a sense of a groundswell of people who got just what they wanted with the movie, and the first big screen face-off between DC’s two biggest heroes. It’s important, I think, to note that, as the narrative otherwise seems to be entirely negative. And that’s not the case.

Yet it would also be correct to suggest that many did not warm to Zack Snyder’s movie. And, more to the point, many left Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice with little desire to head online and say nice things about the film.

It’s to the point where a film that was expected to earn $1 billion in box office takings, and in turn kickstart the planned DC movie universe, is having to content itself with $862 million, and now an outside chance of breaking $900m. Conversely, Disney’s Zootopia is set to break the $1 billion mark, and few would wager against Captain America: Civil War following it.

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The signs of problems came quickly. Following a monstrous opening weekend, where Batman v Superman snared $420 million worldwide at the end of March, and $166 million in the US, there were quickly reports that those opening three days were frontloaded. That people had rushed off to see the film on day one and day two, but by the Sunday, the drop off in business was pronounced.

Lots of factors determine box office, of course, and it seemed a little premature to write the film off on what might just have been a nice day to do something else. But Warner Bros still was unlikely to have suspected at this point that the $420 million it banked in the first three days would account for nearly half the film’s gross some six weeks’ later.

By weekend two, though, the warning signs were much louder. In America, business fell by just shy of 70%, the fourth largest second weekend drop of all time for a movie that had opened to over $100 million (mind you, the final Harry Potter movie dropped over 70% in its second weekend). This, too, was reflected worldwide, as the global gross crept up to a total of $682.9 million. We wrote more about the second weekend dropoff right here. The projections that the movie would break the $1 billion barrier at the box office were all but abandoned at this stage.

As at the time of writing this piece, the film’s box office stands at $862 million. Warner Bros, and the broader industry, was – bluntly – expecting more money.

The key problem, in sharp contrast to, say, The Avengers, was that Dawn Of Justice didn’t seem to be attracting much in the way of repeat business. That people went to see the movie once, but didn’t go again, and certainly weren’t rounding up a bunch of friends to take along the next time.

Sure, there’s bound to be exceptions to that, but simply not enough to make the difference. Warner Bros, which is gambling heavily on both DC properties and Zack Snyder as a filmmaker, found itself up against thinkpieces and internet comments complaining about the length, tone and last third of the movie. Not in a massively dissimilar way from the weeks after Man Of Steel’s release in 2013.

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A flop?

But still: can a film that’s taken over $800 million at the box office, that’s now the seventh biggest comic book movie of all time, and the 46th biggest movie ever at the box office, be called a commercial disappointment?

As scary as it sounds, yes it can. Perhaps not a flop – Warner Bros will ultimately see profit from the movie – but certainly not the movie universe-launching springboard the studio wanted and arguably needed. This was, after all, Warner Bros playing catch up. As Disney was getting set to launch the 13th film in the Marvel cinematic universe – Captain America: Civil War – Warner was trying to jump the queue as best it could.

We’re some way from Dawn Of Justice being a disaster, and we’re not quite at the stage Sony hit when The Amazing Spider-Man 2 topped out at just over $700m, leading to the studio abandoning its then-planned Spider-Man movie universe. But there are fires that Warner Bros clearly needs to put out now.

Dawn Of Justice may now be the highest grossing Superman film of all time, but its takings are notably down on the last two Batman adventures. Furthermore, Warner Bros is a long way off from earning the money that Marvel secured with its two Avengers movies, both of which made more than $1.4 billion apiece at the worldwide box office. Warner Bros may not have publically said it, but with Batman V Superman – its two biggest heroes – and the Justice League movie project, that’s the kind of number it would have wanted.

That it didn’t hit that level means that alterations are afoot…

The ramifications

Inevitably, there’s lots of rumor here, but there have been suggestions that Warner Bros is making notable changes off the back of the perceived disappointment of Dawn Of Justice.

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Within a week or so of Dawn Of Justice’s release, for instance, came a rumor that the next DC movie universe project, Suicide Squad, had gone back before the cameras with the aim of adding more comedy to the movie. The humorless approach Zack Snyder had taken with Batman V Superman wasn’t, it seemed, playing well, and thus extra laughs were allegedly being injected into August’s Suicide Squad. That rumour has since been downplayed.

Likewise, director James Wan has implied that reports of his departure from the upcoming Aquaman movie, starring Jason Momoa, are premature. That said, Seth Grahame-Smith has, in the last few weeks, left the director’s chair of The Flash movie, with “creative differences” being cited. Some are speculating that the studio wants a more experienced helmer instead, as it prepares its DC fightback.

One film in particular that Warner Bros couldn’t affect, though, was Justice League – Part 1. As soon as Snyder and his team were done with the international press tour for Dawn Of Justice, they were straight off to work shooting Justice League in the UK. That was around two weeks after the release of BvS. Justice League production began in April, and unlike the earlier film that would have well over a year between the end of shooting and actual release, the first Justice League film has a much harder deadline. Warner Bros has inked in a release date of November 2017 for the project, and it’s not left itself much wiggle-room to adapt to the response to Batman V Superman, had it intended to do so.

Likewise, Patty Jenkins is deep into work on directing Wonder Woman, also due in 2017. That said, given the positive response to Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman in Dawn Of Justice, there might just be a bit more confidence surrounding that particular project.

The ramifications for Warner Bros aren’t just around its DC slate, though. A strong rumor, that hasn’t been denied, suggests now that the studio is to pull down on the number of big films it makes. That’s not all down to Batman V Superman, it should be noted, but Zack Snyder’s juggernaut didn’t seem to aid the cause.

After all, the studio has gambled hard on a bunch of projects that haven’t fared well at all. It looked to kickstart a new series of movies with Pan, that struggled at the box office. Standalone sci-fi flick Jupiter Ascending left no shortage of red ink, too, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. likewise proved not to be a franchise starter. In The Heart Of The Sea, meanwhile, earned neither award plaudits nor much hard cash. And even an acclaimed movie such as Mad Max: Fury Road grossed under $400 million at the global box office.

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There have been high spots – San Andreas was a big hit last summer, for instance – but simply not enough for Warner Bros’ demands.

Dawn of more justice

The story of Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice still isn’t done, though. The film continues to play in cinemas worldwide, and will do for a few more weeks’ yet. It should mop up at least another $30m or so before it’s done, and then there’s the small matter of the longer, Ultimate Cut that arrives on Blu-ray in the summer.

Furthermore, we’re not looking at the kind of catastrophe that Fox had to go through with its Fantastic Four project last summer. There’s comfortably enough of a springboard here for a collection of interesting films (not just the ones Wonder Woman watches on her laptop), even if there’s still a broader audience that arguably needs winning over.

Yet as studios contract their production output, and routinely channel $200-300 million into the making of a film alone (before distribution and marketing costs kick in), the level of return required goes up too. Sure, China has opened up a bigger market for certain blockbusters, but factoring against that is that fact that studios see around 30% of the gross from a Chinese release in their bank accounts. In short, if you spend $300m on a movie, you need it to be making $900m just to see black ink on the cinema release. That’s why Batman V Superman’s gross has been questioned, and that’s why it’s suggested the film may have slightly flopped, as bizarre as that sounds.

Times really have changed. Back in 1990, 20th Century Fox was widely criticized for spending $75 million making Die Hard 2: Die Harder, leading many pundits to question how on earth a film that cost that much could make a profit.

Now? It looks like a bargain…

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