Watchmen: 50 days later

Friday marks Watchmen’s 50th day on theatrical release. So has it been worth the gamble for Warner Bros?

Zack Snyder's Watchmen

When Watchmen shot out of the blocks to an opening weekend of $55m in the US back at the start of March, there were some mutterings of discontent that this wasn’t quite the kind of number that Warner Bros was looking for. That said, it’s hard to contend that a $55m opening weekend is anything to be sniffed at, and it looked like Warner Bros has just about won its gamble to make a tricky comic book movie for adult audiences only. After all, there was the international take to figure, and at first glance, Watchmen appeared to be a box office hit.

The worry, of course, was about the film’s second weekend. Such a strong genre film was always going to struggle to hold its audience into a second week, and so it proved.

That’s not usual, however, and again, it’s almost the norm for a film’s second weekend to drop quite heavily. That said, there’s still little reason why a film can’t go from there to enjoy a reasonably prolonged stay in the box office charts. This year alone we’ve got January release Paul Blart: Mall Cop sitting in the top 20 at the US box office, He’s Just Not That Into You is still bringing in cash 11 weeks after its release, and the likes of Taken and Hotel For Dogs are still drawing small crowds.

Seven weeks after its release, however, and Watchmen‘s legs have all but buckled. For the weekend just gone, its seventh on release, the film brought home $199,114. More worryingly, that makes for a total take of $106,848,750 in America. It’s the 358th most successful film of all time in the US off the back of those numbers, and in 357th is Batman & Robin. That’s not the kind of box office company that Warner Bros was expecting the Watchmen to keep.

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Overseas, things haven’t been as bright as hoped for either. The current international take for the film, and this has been petering out too, and currently sits at $74,207,581, for a total worldwide gross of $181,103,123. For the sake of comparison, Batman & Robin drew over $130m overseas, for a total of $238m.

Out of Watchmen‘s receipts has to come the exhibitors’ revenues, marketing costs, distribution expenses and such like. And then there’s the film’s budget, with the most conservative suggesting that it cost $120m to bring the film to the screen in the first place. Off the back of box office returns such as Watchmen‘s, it’s perhaps unsurprising that we’re not going to be seeing a mass market R-rated comic book movie for a long time to come.

We estimated, and we thought conservatively, that Watchmen would get to around $150m in the US, but it seems fairly clear now that it won’t even make it to $110m. And while that’s an awful lot of money, it does still have to rank as – and this is a clear indicator of a sign of the times – a box office disappointment.

Fortunately, for Watchmen its real money spinner is yet to come. Not for nothing do many describe the theatrical release of a film as the trailer for the DVD, and it’s in the DVD and Blu-ray markets where Warner Bros is surely expecting Watchmen to recover and bring home some added bacon. It’s likely to do so, too. Furthermore, it’s a film that’s going to have legs for many years on the home market, and Warner Bros will no doubt keenly exploit it with special and collectors’ editions en masse over the coming decade or so. Watchmen will not, when the final numbers are totted up, be a business failure for the studio.

But then, clearly, neither is it the breakout hit Warner Bros was probably looking for. It’s easy, in hindsight, to see why. It was always going to be a harder sell than a Batman or Spider-man movie, and that it got to nearly $200m worldwide is perhaps an achievement to be celebrated, given the complexity of the source material.

However, tomorrow – Friday April 24th – marks the film’s 50th day on release, and it’s just a shame that it won’t be playing for that much longer, especially as it’s got big screen movie stamped all over it. Not for the first time, though, the mass market cinemagoing public has spoken…

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