When it opens on Friday, new superhero blockbuster “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is expected to put up some supersize numbers.
According to projections from BoxOffice.com based on advanced ticket sales, the Warner Bros. film is on track to bring in $159 million during its first three days of release. That would represent the biggest domestic presummer opening weekend ever.
Yet Warners needs more than a strong opening weekend from the film: Not only does it need to make back a reported $250 million budget and set the table for future releases featuring the same characters, “Batman v Superman” holds the promise of reviving the studio after a weak start to the year.
The film is the studio’s first tentpole of 2016 and comes as rival studios have already posted huge first-quarter domestic box-office receipts with standouts such as “Deadpool” from 20th Century Fox ($331 million as of March 15) and Walt Disney Co.’s “Zootopia” ($155 million).
Though it has released 13 films already this year – more than any other studio – Warners’ $71.8 million in domestic box-office places it eighth among studios, behind mini-major Lionsgate and NBCUniversal’s art films division Focus Features, according to industry website Box Office Mojo. Fox leads the box-office race with $722 million in total gross thus far.
“If the fanboys and fangirls give their thumbs up opening night, then that’s a sign the movie is well on its way to future success,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at the Sherman Oaks office of audience data firm comScore in Reston, Va.
The responsibility of pleasing the audience falls on the shoulders of Zack Snyder, who was tapped to produce and direct the film as well as two sequels and produce a spinoff “Wonder Woman” movie.
“Zack has a lot riding on this, and so does the studio,” Dergarabedian said.
They’re not the only ones. DC Comics, which owns the characters, and actor Ben Affleck – new to the iconic Batman role – are also on the hook if the movie’s a flop.
“There’s a huge amount of social conversation going on about the movie and the closer it gets to the release, the more people are talking about it,” Dergarabedian added. “Of course, there are always going to be detractors.”
Despite that pressure, Snyder said there is no guaranteed formula for making a high-quality film that also makes big money.
“The interesting thing about the balance between art and commerce is that you want people to go see the film – it’s a product – but you can’t reverse engineer it,” he said. “You can’t make a product you are sure people want. With a widget, you can. But this is abstract. There’s no path to follow. It’s a beautiful alchemy and that makes it fun.”
So he relied on his instincts based on previous success directing hits such as “300” and the previous Superman film, “Man of Steel,” while fighting for his creative vision to keep certain expensive scenes in the finished film.
Snyder, 50, likens the give and take with Warners to the way the architects work with contractors to bring their vision to life: “It’s like a building. There are these beautiful gargoyles, and then someone comes in and says, Do we really need these gargoyles?”
For Snyder, the proverbial gargoyle was a couple of extended scenes he insisted the film needed despite their expensive production cost. Eager to protect the secrets of the movie, he would not elaborate on what those scenes show, just that they were essential as they harken toward a storyline in a future film featuring these characters.
He accepts the need to fight certain battles and occasionally compromise on some of his artistic visions – which is something his literary hero, architect Howard Roark, never did.
“After every movie I make, I read the (Ayn Rand) book ‘The Fountainhead,’” he said. “I think there’s a little Howard Roark in all of us. It’s really all about a lack of compromise. Of course, it is fantasy.”
In addition to answering to the studio executives at Warner Bros., Snyder also seeks to keep happy the diehard fans of DC Comics, where his characters originated. As the social media storm around the movie has shown, those passionate fans are highly engaged in everything about the production, from casting decisions to the tone of the movie.
Snyder said he absorbs the opinions, but again follows his instincts.
“People say, ‘It’s too dark,’ but it’s still a guy in a cape,” he said. “How dark can it really be?”
“Batman v Superman” will launch on 4,000 screens nationwide on March 25. A domestic opening-weekend gross of more than $147 million would break the previous presummer opening record set last year by Universal Pictures’ “Furious 7.”
By opening on 30,000 screens worldwide on the same date and with large advance bookings internationally, a global box-office total above $1 billion is being predicted.
“The film already features two of the most recognizable leads in all of film, Batman and Superman,” said Alex Edghill, social media analyst at BoxOffice.com. “Its main hook and appeal surrounds why two of the most beloved characters in all of comics – and, indeed, film − would be battling. Early sentiment was poor because this question wasn’t answered to viewers’ satisfaction in the first trailer.”
Recent trailers have provided more clues, Edghill said, and prerelease ticket demand has exploded as a result.
“What is most impressive is that its positive sentiment over the last two weeks has been one of the strongest for a superhero film that we have tracked,” Edghill added.
The biggest debut of any film this year was by another superhero movie, “Deadpool,” which broke with tradition by flaunting an R rating – unheard of previously for a superhero movie – on its way to open at $132 million a month ago. It has gone on to rake in more than $710 million worldwide.
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