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David Poland

By David Poland

The Simple Math Of Moving Batman vs Superman… Without Blinking

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.

16 Responses to “The Simple Math Of Moving Batman vs Superman… Without Blinking”

  1. Blinky says:

    So…you basically just wrote an article about who blinked. Got it.

  2. MarkVH says:



  3. Martin says:

    Yeah. That makes perfect sense. Which is why the announcement was made towing a boxload of phantom future movies and exactly a week after SDCC, where WOM would have been explosive and really shown DC was in-gear to take on Marvel. Better to wait until after GotG when Marvel is drowning in praise.

    Sure. This is just SOP, and it also had nothing to do with Newscorp, forget Marvel. Just a wise decision. To announce a ton of arbitrary dates, with nothing else. Just look at that date-slate Sony and Universal made public…dates with no movies just percolates confidence.

    Very common practice, and it has nothing to do with trying to appear forward-looking after a nice stock drop by frustrated investors.

    Yeah. They’re all cool at WB. And it’s not like they would ever change those dates. I mean, those dates are really locked in. No way would WB go back on any of them. They were announced! Come hell or high water, movies will be made. Unless they’re not, then we can still act like they got a handle on all this.

  4. Dr Wally Rises says:

    A correction, Iron Man was not the 2nd highest opener of Summer 08 and Indiana Jones was not the 1st. That was the Summer that TDK ruled the roost. Anyway, my take on BvS moving is thus, and take it for whatever it’s worth. My theory is that it’s less to do with Captain America 3, but that someone has been tipped the wink about Star Wars possibly moving to May 2016. What with the delay in filming after Harrison Ford got crocked, and the small but insistent rumor on Star Wars fan podcasts and forums that Abrams is asking Disney for more time, it adds up to a delay to me. We shall see.

  5. David Poland says:

    Dr Wally… May… as noted in the piece.

  6. David Poland says:

    Martin… if you think movie release dates are a stock price issue, you haven’t paid much attention to the market and the studios.

    The Comic-Con theory is more interesting… but, again, an assumption that the world revolves around Comic-Con. It doesn’t.

    The issue of releasing all this dates, which I didn’t address, is fairly stupid.

  7. Hallick says:

    “And ASM2? Well, it didn’t really have a chance to start the big movie season. Captain America 2 took that honor.”

    Maybe that’s an excuse for not being the number #1 movie of the summer (maybe not), but it’s no real excuse for falling short of the #2 position when by definition only one of the top two movies in any of the other 7 summers could have theoretically taken the honor of kicking off their summer season.

    And is being FIRST really the guarantee of who winds up at #1 or #2 on that list?

  8. pisher says:

    Just because WB made the right decision doesn’t mean they didn’t blink. They would rather have been opening in May. No film of this genre has ever opened well in March. EVER. Watchmen is the highest-opening (and grossing) superhero film that opened in that month. And why did it open in that month? Because they weren’t going to waste a major slot on it. And rightly so. They had nothing to lose by opening it then–it wasn’t a viable franchise. It wasn’t any kind of franchise.

    Some films can do amazingly well opening in March. I just don’t think this is one of them.

    The problem here is that they know they’ve got an inferior product. I don’t mean the characters, but the people adapting them. They just keep making one critical mistake after another. The second weekend for Man of Steel told the story–people did not like that movie–BvS is going to be everything MOS was, only worse. Sure, there’s tons of people on the internet who are really excited about it. And we all know that guarantees a huge audience showing up to buy tickets, right?

    Why did they move it? Very simple. They knew Marvel wouldn’t budge. Because Marvel has nothing to lose. Their movie is a lot cheaper, and isn’t the linchpin of the Avengers franchise. So they do a bit less business–so what? There was a very real chance they’d win the weekend–but if they lost, it wouldn’t hurt them, because it’s Captain America–going up against Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, and I forget how many other DC characters. And some of these characters sell way more comics than Captain America–and that means precisely nothing in a movie theater these days.

    Marvel had nothing to lose. WB had everything to lose. That’s why they blinked.

    But unless BvS becomes the biggest March opener of all time–and it won’t–they still lose.

  9. SamLowry says:

    So is the assumption now that marketing has turned all movies into wheat crops, so identical in every possible way that the concept of “quality” no longer exists? That audiences will rush lemming-like into any theater queue on opening weekend without a thought to whether the crop might be “good” or “bad”?

    I guess that would explain TRANSFORMERS.

  10. PcChongor says:

    ^ Change “marketing” to “Marvel,” and you’ll have hit the nail right on the spandex head.

  11. Pete B. says:

    Geez PCP,

    Did you hate GotG that much?

  12. Geoff says:

    pisher, I think you might be mischaracterizing Man of Steel’s staying power just a bit…..last June was STACKED in the second half. In less than the two weeks starting that second weekend of MOS, you had THREE films that went on to gross over $200 million plus another that did over $150 million – on that second weekend of MOS’ run, you had two huge openers (World War Z, Monsters University) that both opened over $65 million each which is the only time that has ever happened. Now that’s not to say that Man of Steel was beloved by all but…..

    Man of Steel ended up grossing over $290 million from a $116 million opening in the most competitive June ever resulting in a multiplier of 2.51. Captain America – The Winter Soldier ended up grossing about $260 million from a $95 million opening with pretty much the month of April to itself outside of solid grosses for Rio 2 resulting in a multiplier 2.73. Not really a big difference when you think about it…..and they both cost over $200 million capped with mega-marketing budgets for each.

    Late March is a risk I’ll give you that….but I think people are also forgetting that May is becoming a TOUGHER month. Amazing Spiderman 2 really had very little breathing room with Godzilla and X Men coming within three weeks each having similar openings. I doubt May 2016 will be much different….the next X Men is coming out that month as well.

    I have no doubt that Warners is going to market the shit out of this movie…they already are….and if they got Man of Steel to a $116 million opening less than a year after The Dark Knight Rises opened at $160 million, that’s a pretty good range to aim for. March has had two films open to over $100 million in the past four years – Alice in Wonderland (2010) at $116 million and The Hunger Games (2012) at $152 million. I think an opening between $130 million and $160 million would be a reasonable expectation – as long as Warners can play the expectations game right on this one (“Sure The Avengers opened to over $200 million, but that WAS in May after all….”), actually make sure that Zach Snyder takes a TON of notes from Chris Terrio and Ben Affleck, and they position this the right way overseas, this could make over $800 million plus worldwide maybe more.

    I think the REAL battle between Marvel and DC will later that summer – right now, it looks like Dr. Strange is launching in July and it could have a darker, horror theme. Warners has slotted that early August date for something……which could be Shazam, the most purely kid friendly superhero and likely starring The Rock. If DC ends up having the more fun bigger crowd-pleaser, then all bets are off…..

    Marvel’s streak is going to end at some point…..I have a feeling it could end next summer with Ant Man. But then again, I thought it would end with Guardians. DC’s gotta be banking on that I’m sure.

  13. Nick says:

    anyone else think shareholders care about anything other than bottom line?

    guardians was never gonna bomb.

    do warners execs sit there and ponder over their product quality?

    last up, when a film opens on 5000 screens, june vs march really becomes meaningless.

  14. palmtree says:

    Back when it opened in 2011, I was arguing that Fast Five had actually moved the start of summer to the end of April, but no one was having it. Nice to see DP acknowledge this new reality…

    As far as late March goes, it’s typically the slot where counter-programming plays really well. With the new TMNT opening this weekend, it’s worth remembering the first Ninja Turtles movie broke opening records at the end of March back when New Line Cinema was some fledgling indie distributor. Hunger Games is a more recent example of that kind of release scheduling, this time helping out Lionsgate. So yes, opening March is tough, but totally doable if you got the goods.

  15. Martin says:

    OK, David. I see your position. You’re looking solely at the BvS move and I’m taking the entire announcement in whole. You’re right about a single film. My point about the stock is in regards to the announcement of the slate.

    WB has two major points of value; cable and IP. Marvel’s 4Bil sale and WB’s inability to capitalize on anything non-Batman has lead to speculation about selling DC in a deal where they still get some points. Newscorp and CBS are the two best industry suitors, and the IP was a motivating factor for Newscorp as the pissing match between Marvel and Fox has only escalated. Fox has had some great genre success, but their library is limited while WB has had limited success exploiting a great library.

    Avengers created the doubt and the failure of MOS to live up to WB’s own self-induced hype started the speculation; Do no more damage to the IP’s value and sell now for 3Bil. Management change happens, and it’s been one head-scratching announcement after another. They have a long-term plan that encompasses Film/TV. OTOH, Film/TV don’t cross. It’s a sequel, it’s a prequel. Affleck’s just a star, now he’s in charge of rewrites, now he’s directing…something…Wonder Woman is a crown jewel so we’re taking our time…to hire Ratner’s pick since it’s his money. So on and so forth until we reach a slate of ghost dates and now, an EW article that promises details. Next month.

    So, why do this? At first, it looked like they’re playing the fanboys, but if that was the goal, why not do it then at SDCC? It would have added more value to that half-assed BvS teaser and wouldn’t have let Legendary win the SDCC buzz with Godzilla2 and Skull Island. And doing it before GotG dropped, to whatever business, would make the announcement look active.

    Instead, they wait. Ten days. That’s all it took to go from appearing active, to reactive. Now no one believes the WB EW answer even if the math makes sense. So what really happened?

    GotG was an also-ran idea that had zero capital outside a very tight-knit comic community. How come that works and Green Lantern, which when compared to GotG had a Superman-level of brand awareness, bombed. This isn’t a a case of WOM; WOM didn’t even get out the door before GotG exploded. It’s the company brand value, and DC has none because WB has little.

    WB is killing their IP’s value, where outside players, gamer companies like Rockstar and Netherrealm, are excelling at it. Same with DC licensing. And it’s all because WB has perpetually acted like they know what they’re doing, it’s all some master plan, when the truth is they’ve been spinning plates since Batman89.

    So the laundry list of name-that-hero dates? That was directed at Motley and analysts to quell the “Marvel just made 100mil with a raccoon and a tree. Just sell DC already, you’ll make more now” talk.

    The big trick is the possibility of the first two dates announced being BvS in March and Justice League in August. Bookend the summer with a March cliffhanger, and one budget for two films. It would explain the Argo guy being brought in, twice, in a matter of months and the cast-but-not-cast talk.

  16. SamLowry says:

    But there was plenty of positive WOM before GUARDIANS opened, just as there was plenty of negative WOM before GREEN LANTERN opened. The difference comes down to quality, or at least perceived quality.

    Some movies, however, have a sheen of quality that wears off only after repeat viewings reveal the roller-coaster ride was thrown in to conceal real problems. Other movies are nothing but roller-coaster rides but if the ride jangles your nads hard enough then the audience and the studio are fine with that.

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