The Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice reviews are in, and…well, they could have been better. (Read Drew McWeeny's take on the film here.) So how will the film's mixed-to-poor critical notices affect its opening weekend box-office? HitFix surveyed three box office experts for their take, and what emerged is a diminished but far from disastrous picture of BvS's commercial prospects.
First, the bad news: general moviegoers really do pay attention to review aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes (where Batman v Superman stands at 32% “Rotten”) and Metacritic (44/100), and those will likely convince at least a small portion of that potential audience to skip the film altogether.
“At most, I'd think that one out of every ten film fans is on the fence about Dawn of Justice enough that reviews will sway their decision to see the movie this weekend,” says Box Office Prophets founder David Mumpower. “That means the film reviews are at most a 10 percent swing.”
While 10 percent may not sound like a huge percentage, that can translate into big drops for a movie's box office take, particularly when you're talking about a release on the scale of Batman v Superman.
“I think on the margins, definitely it will have an effect and you might see it getting $140, $150 million opening weekend when you might have expected it to do $180, $190 million if it had great reviews,” notes The Numbers founder Bruce Nash. “And that's a lot of money, no question. But it's not turning it from a major release into a terrible flop, I think.”
For comparison's sake, Nash looked to the disastrous release of last year's Fantastic Four, which flopped badly after finishing with a scathing 9% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While Batman v Superman's critical average leaves much to be desired, as Mumpower notes, “it's not a scary enough score to drive away fans who were anticipating the second great comic book movie of the year.” It doesn't hurt that Warner Bros. is going to bat for BvS in a way that 20th Century Fox didn't for Fantastic Four, which could make all the difference on opening weekend. Unlike F4, the studio is counting on Dawn of Justice to launch an entire cinematic universe, much in the way Joss Whedon's well-reviewed first installment of The Avengers did for Marvel.
“I think that there was certainly an argument made with Fantastic Four that the studio just went, 'You know, this isn't gonna launch a franchise for us. It's not what we were looking for,'” says Nash. “You know, they're still marketing it but they're going to do it in a more lukewarm way. And that isn't the case here. I think for this film, Warner. Bros, quite apart from spending $200 million on making this film, and another $200, maybe $300 million marketing it, they also have a huge investment in making a series of films in the DC universe. So this is not gonna be a film where the studio's gonna say, 'ok, this doesn't quite work the way we hoped, so were' gonna just kinda slide it out.' They have to go full bore on this. And I think the audiences react to that.”
Box Office Guru founder Gitesh Pandya further suggests that die-hard fans will come out in force for Batman v Superman no matter what the critics say, indicating an audience that wants to “see the film with their own eyeballs and judge for themselves” rather than relying on reviewers' opinions. That said, he believes recent action films like Deadpool, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Mad Max: Fury Road may cause fans to be a little harder on Dawn of Justice than they might have been in a different marketplace.
“The fans are the true judge, jury, and sometimes executioner,” noted Pandya. “Meeting expectations is always tricky. After Mad Max: Fury Road, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Deadpool, the bar has been raised for action movies. So that will be a big challenge for Bruce and Clark.”
It bears noting that a huge amount of advance tickets were sold for Batman v Superman before a single review was printed — a calculated move on Warner Bros.' part to help ensure a sizable opening weekend regardless of where the critics came down.
“One of the primary reasons studios emphasize early ticket sales is this exact scenario,” Mumpower noted. “Corporations can guarantee a bulletproof opening weekend for films whose underlying quality concerns them through early adoption enticements. By providing a constant marketing push for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice for the body of two years now, Warner Bros. Pictures created a feedback loop of hype that drove consumers to purchase advance tickets the instant they became available.”
While there's almost no doubt that Batman v Superman will take in well over $100 million its opening weekend thanks to measures like these, a larger problem could be afoot for the DC brand, which lacks the lighter touch of Marvel's mega-successful cinematic universe. As Mumpower notes, the “constant darkness” that characterizes the DC superhero films could end up crippling the Marvel-style franchise Warner Bros. is attempting to build.
“DC's planned movie universe desperately needs to open the curtains and let some light shine in,” says Mumpower, who names well-regarded DC comic book writer Gail Simone as a potential savior. “People want to feel inspired, and DC film projects constantly miss that. Meanwhile, Marvel movies like Captain America: The First Avenger and Guardians of the Galaxy embrace it. …[DC] should realize that (arguably) their most gifted storyteller, Gail Simone, is also their funniest. Simply seeking her input more would elevate DC just as much as Whedon and Jon Favreau did with Marvel. Ten more humorous and/or identifiable character moments from someone as entertaining as Simone probably adds 15-20 points to the [Rotten Tomatoes] score for Batman v Superman. Just look at what humor did for Deadpool.”
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice hits theaters Friday.