Jeff Sneider asked me to write something up on this after I noted that there are a lot of silly/shitty stories out there on the subject that are basking in the “who blinked?” thing. So I have.
If you look at the last 8 summers, each has launched with a Marvel-based superhero movie. 5 of the 8 films have been #1 or #2 for the summer.
The only ones that were not were X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the first Thor, and this summer’s Amazing Spider-Man 2. All three of those films come with a fairly reasonable excuse. Wolverine was a reboot of sorts. Thor was the first attempt by the current Marvel regime, following Iron Man. And ASM2? Well, it didn’t really have a chance to start the big movie season. Captain America 2 took that honor.
Wolverine also got overshadowed by a big movie one weekend into release, JJ Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. Wolverine opened to $10 million more… but lost the battle of the legs by over $75 million domestically.
Thor came in #6 for the summer of 2011… but while close, did beat the first Captain America in both opening and domestic gross. It also beat X-Men: First Class by a more sizable margin and crushed Green Lantern in the first four-comic-book-movie summer ever.
There are a lot of factors about which films end up where, domestically, for the whole of its summer run. So let’s take a look at opening numbers as a basis for analysis…
In the 7 summers in a row with comic book openings until this one, the “opening day” film was the #1 opening 5 times in the ultra-competitive month of May.
In 2 of those cases, all May films were ultimately out-opened later in the summer by a Transformers movie, and in the 3rd, The Dark Knight. But that speaks to the power of those films more than a show of weakness for opening day. (And of course, Transformers 4 had the top opening this summer too.)
Spider-Man 3 outdid both of the other threequels in domestic gross – Shrek and Pirates – and was the #1 opening by $30 million.
Iron Man was the #2 opening of the summer, but by having more “open space” on the schedule, ended up out-grossing the #1 opener that summer, Indiana Jones 4.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine dropped like a stone, but was the #2 opening of that summer, out-opened only by Transformers 2.
Iron Man 2 was the #1 opening of the summer, though it was ultimately outgrossed by Toy Story 3.
Thor did well, but not Top 5 in opening or gross.. though it did top both other comic books movies. And there is this… Fast Five opened the weekend before Thor and outopened the official summer launch by $20 million.
Avengers. #1 opening by $46 million and won the whole summer. #1 grosser in the domestic box office.
Iron Man 3 was #1 opening by $57m and won the summer.
I don’t think anyone is out there arguing the power of that opening day summer slot. It doesn’t guarantee anything – a fact even more apparent before the CG comic book onslaught – but it is the best May launching pad and tends only to be matched by the weekend before July 4 or the weekend after. (The second weekend of July slot was opened by Pirates and then, Batman)
But this year, we saw something different. A big sequel dated one month before May’s official-ish opening day. And the results spoke for themselves. Cap had the best opening of the year, as of that time, by a 36% margin.
In 2013, the leap by the summer opener over all other opening days that year was $95 million (120%).
2012 – 36%
2011 – (neg) -31%
2010 – 10%
2009 – 21%
2008 – 107%
2007 – 114%
Only one exception, as you see… the year Fast Five jumped ahead of summer’s opening day.
That is, until this year, when Captain America 2 jumped opening day. As things went, it opened only 4% ahead of Amazing Spider-Man 2. But it flipped the script. And by having the proverbial “free space” earned the top domestic gross of the year to date.
So… Which is the real, best “opening day” slot? The first weekend of May or before that?
The answer appears to be self-evident. Of course, the movies involved carry no small amount of importance in this equation, especially in total domestic gross. But being first is a clear, undeniable advantage. And if you have a big enough movie, the launch of the summer clearly can move.
Batman vs Superman is certainly a big enough movie. Moving five weeks before Captain America 3 is an advantage on paper. The gamesmanship of “who blinked?” is nothing but silliness. Both films represent investments of more than $350 million with worldwide marketing… perhaps more than $400 million.
What was the best business move? Going first.
But there is more!
This summer, both Captain America 2 and Amazing Spider-Man 2 went out to international markets two weeks earlier than domestic. The World Cup was an issue, but these were not the first cases of international leading domestic.
So if in 2016, Warner Bros does what it tends to do, releasing the film worldwide on the same date, what would happen if Captain America 3 decided to go out 2 weeks early again? It could crowd Batman vs Superman after just three weekends. By going out the weekend before April 1, Warner Bros keeps their spacing clean and actually discourages Cap 3 from stepping on its heels.
Warner Bros wins again.
Of course, there is other stuff floating out there. Zack Snyder has had 4 of his 6 films open in March. On the other hand, only one has opened at the end of March… and it (Sucker Punch) bombed. Moreover, Snyder’s only opening over $71m million was in June. The issue is not March or Snyder’s history… it is, again, a business decision on a very big piece of business.
Anyway… that’s it. Not too complex.