‘Batman v Superman’ is a truly unprecedented box office phenomenon and here’s why

03.29.16 1 year ago

When I asked a number of box office experts last week how those scathing reviews would affect Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice's opening weekend gross, all of them agreed that the effect on the film's commercial prospects would likely be negligible (at least in the early going). And guess what? They were right! Despite a dismal 28% “Rotten” score on Rotten Tomatoes, the superhero film felled a number of box office records in its debut. 

Still, 28% is a truly awful score, and so I got curious: what previous superhero films have an even lower percentage on Rotten Tomatoes than the Zack Snyder-directed mashup? After a quick scan, here's the abysmal list I came up with:

Fantastic Four (2005) 27%
Punisher: War Zone (2008) 27%
Ghost Rider (2007) 26%
Green Lantern (2011) 26%
Blade: Trinity (2004) 25%
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) 21%
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993) 21%
Spawn (1997) 19%
Judge Dredd (1995) 18%
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012) 17%
Superman III (1983) 17%
Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie (1997) 17%
The Spirit (2008) 14%
Blankman (1994) 13%
Steel (1997) 12%
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) 12%
Batman and Robin (1997) 11%
Elektra (2005) 10%
Captain America (1990) 9%
Catwoman (2005) 9%
Fantastic Four (2015) 9%
Supergirl (1984) 7%
Zoom (2006) 3%

As you can see, Batman v Superman is not in good company here (arguments for any of the above-listed titles notwithstanding). But it's worth noting that unlike BvS, the majority of these films were far from critic-proof. Though titles like Tim Story's Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot triumphed at the box office despite being slammed by reviewers, those are the exception rather than the rule. Far more typical of the list are the commercial failures, including legendary flops like Batman and Robin, Judge Dredd, Catwoman and last year's Fantastic Four reboot, which arguably became the most notorious misfire in superhero movie history. 

Even when comparing Dawn of Justice to the box-office successes on the list, it feels like an outlier; with a $468 million total worldwide in less than a week, it's already outgrossed every single movie on the list with the exception of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, whose $493 million total it will easily surpass by the end of the week. In that sense, it's a truly unprecedented phenomenon in the superhero genre.

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