Some perspective on ‘Watchmen’s’ opening weekend box office

03.08.09 9 years ago 3 Comments

Warner Bros.

As the projected weekend numbers for “Watchmen” hit the web on Sunday morning, no doubt many “I told you so” pundits were furiously typing away at their computers about the huge disappointment the opening weekend gross of “Watchmen” was.  And while a few will spin it that Warner Bros. was wrong to invest the rumored $150 million budget into a 2 hour and 43 minute R-rated comic book thriller with no recognizable stars, another contingent are secretly hoping this can be the beginning of the end of all these “horrible comic-book” movies (really).

Hardly to both points.

It’s clear that many in the mainstream media (and a few online) have a disdain for the exuberance and over-enthusiastic response to the whole process (announcement, production, marketing, release) of beloved genre movies coming to fruition such as “Watchmen.”  (Of course, many of them act similarly at the altar of Clint Eastwood or Spielberg, but that’s a topic for another day.)  No one will dispute that a little reality needs to be injected into the proceedings on both sides, but wishing for a project to fail because a large audience of fanboys are chomping at the bit to see it?  Do we really want people to not get excited about going to the movies? Really? Think about it for a moment.

Now, let’s get back to the primary point of box office and do some math, shall we?  “Watchmen” is now the third biggest opening ever in March, behind Snyder’s “300” which raked in $70 million two years ago and “Ice Age: The Meltdown” which cumed $68 million in 2006.  The “Ice Age” sequel was something “Watchmen” never intended to be: a four quadrant family flick that was only 90 minutes long.  Newsflash: “300” was also almost a complete hour shorter.  You can make the argument that in this age of the multiplex theater owners can throw up enough screens to compensate so moviegoers can have more options in case they miss the first 8:00 PM show.  That’s partially true, but there are laws of time and physics at work here.  You can’t max out the number of showings to the level a shorter film did (like “300”) during the same period.  This does compensate for some of the difference in per screen average.  “300” did a little over $22,000 per screen its opening weekend and “Watchmen” was also slightly more than $15,000 per screen.  But, we’re hardly drinking the kool aid here. 

No one should argue that “Watchmen” maxed out on its opening weekend.  Clearly, R-rated blockbusters have done way more, but each film is really it’s own animal.  “The Matrix Reloaded”?  Sure, it got to $91 million during its opening weekend, but anyone remember the publicity maelstrom around that sequel? “The Passion of the Christ”?  Never doubt the power of the mighty one and Mel Gibson, but that marketing, promotion and audience around that phenomenon is too complex to dissect here, nor is it fair to compare.  “Hannibal’s” $58 million? That sequel word is gonna come up again.  And finally, “Sex and the City.”  Yes, Carrie Bradshaw’s jump to the big screen opened to just $2 million more than “Watchmen” last June, but in many way’s it’s the perfect comparison.

Probably the only true disappointment from Warner Bros. this weekend was their inability to broaden “Watchmen’s” must see outside the core demo of 18-34 year old men.  Exit polls showed 65% of the audience was male and only 35% of it over the age of 25.  Ironically, that last figure was the opposite of pre-release tracking services, who said the older audience was more interested in the film than younger.  Warner’s can only hope those older moviegoers follow form and show up next week when the crowds have died down somewhat.  But, if you were to flip the exit polling numbers, they would look a lot like “Sex and the City.”  The percentage of moviegoers would be completely female dominated with older women turning it into a major movie event instead of twentysomething men.  And that flick, naysayers aside, didn’t crash and burn after one weekend.  It grossed a startling $150 million by the time it was all said and done.  And that takes us back to the biggest number of all: production budget.

Publicly, “Watchmen’s” production budget is at $150 million and the studio has claimed only $50 million in marketing expenses (domestically).  Even if you believe those figures, a similar $150 million gross to “Sex” isn’t going to cut it (especially with Fox taking 8.5% after settling the rights lawsuit in January). However, “Watchmen” grossed $35 million overseas on Friday alone. [Correction: Initial reports were wrong, “Watchmen” did only $27 million overseas this weekend.]  Final numbers for the weekend will be available later today, but a $300-350 worldwide gross when it’s all said and done?  Let’s just say Warner Bros. stockholders should be more worried about the future of AOL than the profit margins on “Watchmen” which should certainly be in the black after DVD and the growing video on demand market is taken into account.

And I’m sure Mr. Snyder and producers Larry Gordon and Lloyd Levin can hold their heads up high about that.

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