How 'Batman v Superman' Beat the Haters and Became a Box Office Juggernaut
Have you seen some of the scathing reviews that "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" has received? Forget Lex Luthor and Doomsday; this week it seemed like the biggest threats to the DC superheroes were the critics, who hurled pans that could have thwarted not just Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent but Warner Bros.' vast DC Extended Universe franchise plans for the next decade.
Didn't happen, of course. The fanboys -- and everyone else -- went anyway, helping "BvS" launch the franchise with an estimated $170.1 million, exceeding predictions by about $20 million and smashing numerous records in the process. It's the biggest March opening ever, the biggest opening for a Batman or Superman movie, and the biggest opening ever for Warner Bros. With its dismal 29 percent score at Rotten Tomatoes, it's also the worst-reviewed movie ever to earn more than $150 million during its first weekend.
So the universe is safe, and so is Warners' investment in the future, starting with the $250 million invested in just this film's production. Still, how did the studio manage to overcome the Kryptonite-like reviews, not to mention decades' worth of justifiable fanboy apprehension over Warners' often botched efforts to create its own Marvel-like big-screen mega-franchise? Here are six secret weapons "BvS" had up its spandex sleeves.
1. Wonder WomanShe may not have a huge part in the film, but DC fans have been waiting 75 years to see her on the big screen. According to a survey by ticket pre-seller Fandango, Gal Gadot's Amazon warrior princess was the single biggest draw, cited by 88 percent of respondents. Of course, Gadot has her own fanbase from the "Fast & Furious" franchise, and everyone knows she's getting her own "Wonder Woman" movie next year. So many viewers were willing to sit through 2 1/2 hours of "BvS" just for a few glimpses of Wonder Woman holding her own with the top-billed heroes.
2. Everyone Else Who Isn't Batman or SupermanAccording to the same survey, 60 percent of those polled were fans of Jesse Eisenberg who were eager to see the "Social Network" star's take on villainous mogul Lex Luthor. And 66 percent were fans of director Zack Snyder, whose previous DC comic book films include "Watchmen" and "Man of Steel." Not that people didn't also want to see Ben Affleck's version of Batman or see "Man of Steel" star Henry Cavill don the red Super-cape again. Still, there were lots of other draws, including even the auteur behind the camera. Speaking of whom...
3. 3D and IMAXLove him or hate him (and there are many in both camps), Snyder deserves credit as a creator of eye-popping visuals that really do look like frames from a comic book brought to life. His movies are among the few that do benefit from being seen in enhanced format. It's no wonder that a full 40 percent of this weekend's "BvS" grosses came from 3D screenings, and a healthy 10.6 percent came from IMAX showings. Those ticket surcharges helped the supercharged opening.
4. TimingIt's late March, so there's really nothing out there, not even "Deadpool" or "Zootopia," that offered a real obstacle to the "BvS" steamroller. The only other wide-release movie this week was the romantic comedy "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2," which actually did better than expected with it estimated $18.1 million premiere. Of course, it's audience was 76 percent female, while "BvS" viewers were mostly guys (62 percent). So it's not like Warner Bros. had to worry about Universal's rom-com stealing much of its action audience.
5. The DC UniverseAs Marvel fans know, it's sometimes hard to follow all the action in the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies if you haven't been paying attention since the beginning. DC fans know that, if they want to keep up with the DC movies that will spring from this one -- there are at least 10 of them on the drawing board set for release over the next five years, including this summer's "Suicide Squad," next year's "Wonder Woman" and "Justice League," and several others -- they had to get in on the ground floor with "BvS." Indeed the new movie contains not just a Wonder Woman guest spot but teasers and Easter eggs for heroes, villains, and plot developments that may not come to fruition for several years.
6. FOMOBut even if you're not interested in coming up with your own fan theories or spotting references that may not pay off until, say, the release of the "Cyborg" movie in 2020, you still wanted to see "Batman v Superman" just out of Fear of Missing Out. Thanks to months (years?) of hype, it's become part of the national conversation. (International, even, since the film has grossed an estimated $254 million abroad.) The terrible reviews have only added to that conversation. It can't really be as bad as they say, can it? You went out of curiosity, or because you assumed the critics were just being pointy-headed elitists, or because, even if you thought they might be right, you still had to share the experience. (In fact, the film earned a blah B at CinemaScore, suggesting that word-of-mouth among viewers isn't much more enthusiastic than the reviews.) It's a conversation that's not going to die down any time soon, especially because of the film's controversial ending that's sure to divide even die-hard DC Comics readers who might have seen it coming.
Or maybe you've just wondered since you were a kid who would win if your two favorite DC heroes fought each other. If so, then the premise of "Batman v Superman" is nearly impossible to resist.