Why ‘Batman v Superman’ Is Still a High-Stakes Bet

Batman Superman Movie Economics
jonathan carlson for Variety

In an era in which comic-book heroes dominate the box office, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” might appear like a sure bet. Warner Bros.’ March 25 release gives fans arguably the two biggest superheroes in the fantasy constellation, serving up Ben Affleck, one of the biggest stars of his generation, as the Caped Crusader, and Henry Cavill as the Man of Steel. At the helm is Zack Snyder, the director celebrated for creating the surprise hit “300.” And the studio’s crack marketing team, known for sparing no expense, is going full tilt on its promo blitz.

But high expectations create both opportunity and risk.

The formidable intellectual property that Warners is deploying — exciting the collective memories of multiple generations of fans — inspires enormous good will and curiosity about what comes next for (as Lex Luthor would say) the Bat of Gotham and the Son of Krypton. But it also means that fans will react viscerally to characters they feel they own, expecting to have old sensibilities affirmed, even as they anticipate being dazzled by a fresh new take.

Ratcheting up the stakes is the fact that “Batman v Superman”  serves as the ambassador for a whole new generation of films from Warner’s DC Entertainment unit — 10 pictures over the next five years — that are supposed to lift up Warner’s lackluster film slate and super-charge results into the foreseeable future.

“They have the chance to come out with all these other movies,” said media analyst Jessica Reif Cohen of Bank of America/Merrill Lynch. “But it makes the situation much harder; harder to win an audience, harder to market, if this one doesn’t work. … It’s pretty critical.”

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The stakes have been thrown into high relief by the blockbuster success of crosstown rival Marvel Studios. The Disney subsidiary’s last six films have averaged $875 million at the global box office. If Warners could get just halfway to Marvel’s consumer products results, DC could add $150 million to Time Warner’s profits annually, a WB exec has said.

“It would be a slight exaggeration to say everything is riding on this film,” said Doug Creutz, an analyst with Cowen and Co. “But if they can’t make this sale to audiences, then they have a huge problem. They have told Wall Street they are going to grow earnings at Warner Bros. If you can’t make that franchise work, then you can’t achieve that goal.”

While expressing optimism about the film, Warner Bros. execs have tried not to push expectations any higher.

With a production cost of at least $250 million and added global marketing costs easily topping $150 million, the movie would have to gross $800 million to recoup its investment, if it were reliant just on box office (though the film will also benefit from substantial TV, merchandising and other receipts). Studio insiders consider the $800 million figure inflated.

“They have told Wall Street they are going to grow earnings at Warner Bros. If you can’t make that franchise work, then you can’t achieve that goal.”
analyst Doug Creutz

Current tracking suggests a robust opening of at least $120 million-$140 million when the movie launches on about 4,000 screens in the U.S. One media analyst, who asked not to be named, said that given the costs and need to launch a series of future films, “anything under $1 billion in worldwide box office will be a disappointment.”

Months prior to the premiere, Affleck conceded the high stakes in an interview with Variety. “I think there is a ton of pressure on it,” said the actor,  whose selection to play Batman initially rankled some diehard fans. “I mean I would be bulls—ing you to say there isn’t.”

Affleck expressed optimism the film will succeed, as did Greg Silverman, the studio’s president of creative development and worldwide production. “This film is really important to the fans,” said Silverman, “and we feel a responsibility to make sure they get what they deserve: a great film about great characters they care about as much as we do.”

“Batman v Superman” originally was slated for release last July, but in early 2014, Warner Bros. Entertainment chairman Kevin Tsujihara pushed the movie off eight months, allowing for script revisions and other changes. Studio insiders feel that the delay helped make the film better.

Tsujihara knew the calendar shift would hurt the studio’s 2015 results and, indeed, without the cinematic crusaders driving revenue, Warners suffered its worst year in recent memory, dragged down by films like “Jupiter Ascending” and “Pan” (which each lost more than $100 million) and “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” This year, it hopes, marks its comeback.

Eddy Von Mueller, a senior lecturer in the Film and Media Studies department at Emory University, said that DC has tended to produce films that lean more toward “engagement” with the world, in contrast with the more purely escapist fare produced by Marvel. Von Mueller, who has written extensively about special effects and superhero films, said that if the gritty tone of “Batman v Superman’s” trailers carries throughout the two hour, 31 minute film, “It could be a tougher sell to audiences.”

But the self-described fan boy said the film will benefit from a curiosity factor, and could escape the superhero fatigue that many observers think may be coming. “I am really curious to see where this goes,” Von Mueller said. “Can they develop an ensemble franchise out of the DC properties?”

Warners believes it can, in a big way. Among the studio’s plans through 2020: “Wonder Woman,” starring Gal Gadot, arrives in 2017, along with the first of what could be several “Justice League” films, featuring Batman, Superman and the other superheroes. In future years, movies centered on the Flash, Aquaman, Cyborg, Green Lantern and others are anticipated.

Any way you look at it, all of the leaping, flying, zapping spinoffs will be delivered on the backs of Batman and Superman. For the DC heroes to fly, “Dawn of Justice” must lead off a winner.

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  1. Begs says:

    I see myself skipping the next 10 DC films. They’ve done nothing to excite the imagination and have been one disappointment after the other.

  2. Jay K says:

    If “Man of Steel” is any indication, any good elements will be drowned with more action than anyone wants and weak writing.

  3. Miguel Walkem says:

    Whoever thought this one up is from another planet and it’s not Krypton ….. To suggest that b man is in the same league as Superman is absolutely ludicrous ….. Silly …. Will be a major dog ….

  4. This film is a pastiche, an incomplete jigsaw, a Frankenstein that picks pieces of great comic book stories here and there a delivers a poor narrative, over-pumped with million-dollar special effects. Disappointing.

  5. bob says:

    For the sake of sheer entertainment value, this movie is a must-see. The three super heroes involved with this title kick a lot of a$$ and it is very enjoyable to see them do so on the big screen. Go see it.

  6. James says:

    I give it a solid A. The early reviews are not feasible, Batman Kicks ass.

  7. Justin Gimse says:

    I saw the movie tonight and really enjoyed it. I plan on seeing it again. If you think you saw the whole movie from the trailers, you’re wrong. I also thought the casting of Lex worked well… he’s very unlikable, just like Luthor. 4/5

  8. RedScorpion08 says:

    I was never planning on seeing this opening weekend. But, with all the negative reviews, I’m on the fence about seeing this at all. Why? Well, movies are expensive. $20 for one person to go to a movie and get a drink. Really? Double that if I can convince a date to go, too? There are other things I could be spending my money on. Why throw money away? If a critic I like and generally agree with tells me this movie is a bloated, dark, miserable mess, chances are I will have felt the same having watched it. Plus, there are plenty of “good” movies out right now. Deadpool was fun and I’d pay to see that again. But this movie just looks.. .bad.

    I was “meh” with Snyder’s ‘Man of Steel’, but I feel like for BvS 1) I saw the entire movie in the trailers, 2) what I saw didn’t look that great, and (3) the reviews have just been awful.

    This feels like Fant4stic all over again. Good luck to all involved, but DC and Warners doesn’t seem to “get it”. Until they do, I’m holding on to my wallet.

  9. Brad Ruley says:

    For all of you who are telling us that you won’t see it, why exactly do you think anyone cares that you aren’t seeing it? It’s fine if you aren’t seeing it, but lots of other people are.

    I can also guarantee you that the vast majority of people don’t give a damn how liberal or conservative Hollywood is. Most people just wanna be entertained.

  10. Saw it tonight. Great movie. One of the best I’ve seen in many years. Easily on par with the Marvel pantheon of superhero movies, only it was serious without the Marvel humor. That’s the way DC comics generally is though. Excellent flick. Don’t listen to the reviews by the critics. I’ll definitely go see it again and buy the blue-ray.

  11. Phoebe says:

    I love the batman and the superman.They are both my heroes who could protect all the world.In fact,I hope all the heroes can appear in one film or even in the real life though it won’t come true.

  12. Stacy says:

    I think the movie was amazing, it was even better than the first one, and I can’t wait for the next one to come out. I will likely go see it in the theatre at least once or twice more with friends, then I’ll buy the BlueRay. They will make their 875 Million.

  13. Local media reports this film is a real stinker, 2 plus hours. Suggest viewers wait until the DVD comes out and watch it at home.

  14. williaml says:

    Let the LGBTQ pay for the losses

  15. Crack marketing? So many key plot points revealed in the trailers left no surprises. None. The movie was alright. It didn’t stink. Ben brought nothing while the take on Batman is good with the Batman Arkham video game like fight scenes with the Frank Miller inspiration to boot. But we are stuck with Ben Affleck so most knew to go in with a low bar of expectation. Canon. Forget it. It’s trashed. Doomsday. Whatever. Wonderwoman. Nailed it. At least it wasn’t linear like Avengers despite the inevitable boss fight. Zack did great with Watchman but it was made at a time folks expected something else. This is just as adult, so again it will get trashed. Set your expectations and it’s a good film. It’s just so much of what no one asked for that it’s going to get skewered.

  16. JMinSoCal says:

    The critics aren’t on board. Audiences are so-so at the moment.

    The premise is a bit “off, since they’re both classical comic book good-guys. So what’s the deal???

  17. Dave Leask says:

    I hope it bombs just because of Affleck.

  18. Dissapointed says:

    Never missed a Batman flick on opening weekend. But, you had to cast Affleck. Could have been anyone else and I’d have gone.

  19. Snuffy says:

    These extravagant movies are hollow, unsatisfying. No thanks.

  20. Rick Cain says:

    Im sure it suffers from the same problems as man of steel, too many explosions, too much glitz and CGI, not enough story.

  21. Timothy Rya says:

    Maybe if they lose a ton of money on this turd, they’ll finally come to realize that Affleck is box office poison.

  22. man-bat says:

    It would be so easy to reboot. Just make this whole dour and dank film series a spell or false reality cast upon this particular Earth. Just have a couple new characters from the fun, new dimension pop in to save them, break the spell and restore narrative, creativity, color and cool back to the rebooted (and entertaining) Earth. I can wait!

  23. p51d007 says:

    Sorry….SKIPPING this one. The entire idea is stupid, in my opinion.

  24. Timmay says:

    If you do not go see this movie ten times you are bigoted against people who identify as bats and also people from the planet Crypton.

  25. NoMasZackSnyder says:

    Aint gonna make it.

  26. Yarply Twelve says:

    man against alien. Die alien.

  27. Zardoz Wiz says:

    cost to make movie? maybe a quarter of that. cost to finance, pay off, bribe media, tax avoidance, scam and buy ads ? quarter again. money laundering. most of it. bet the accountants show this stuff loses money and what great guys the producers are.

  28. Bill Smith says:

    Right. The rule of thumb is, a movie has to bring in 3 times its production costs to make a profit. So a $100 million film has to bring in $300 million, or else they lost money. These films that are costing $300 million to make… they have to make a cool $1 billion, which is … almost impossible. Let’s say it is unlikely.

  29. Bob in the Bay Area says:

    Ben Affleck is NOT one of the “biggest stars” of his generation. He is one of the biggest liabilities. He sucks. Hard. That was a bad attempt to make him something he isn’t—a good actor. He is as wooden as Pinocchio. He couldn’t act his way out of a wet paper bag.
    The best thing about Ben Affleck is his absence from anything. I hate to say this but I hope this movie bombs, if only to send a message to Hollywood about what a festering suck-hole Affleck really is.
    Worst. Choice. For. Batman. Ever.

  30. Pat roy says:

    Affleck is a b actor at best

  31. Farruke King says:

    20 million dollarswasted on Ben Dickflick salary alone ,a younger no name would have been better
    cant name one movie Leo boyfriend stared in except Daredevil

  32. No Thanks Hollyweird says:

    Superman movies are usually pretty stupid. Superman fighting ben affleck is even worse. I don’t think I would watch this garbage if it was on tv, let alone pay $10-15 for the privilege of seeing it with a roomful of morons.

  33. Average Joe says:

    Have ZERO interest in seeing it. I’ll wait for the next Marvel movie

  34. derpaderp says:

    Never..gonna…happen……

  35. bikerdogred1 says:

    Don’t count on me to see the movie because that isn’t happening.

  36. Scott says:

    I’m going to watch it for free next week after a decent torrent comes through. I would have gladly purchased it for viewing in my home for up to $100 if it was available this week. The entire theatre going experience is gruesome.

  37. Gage says:

    HUGE disappointment. Movie is a stinky turd.

  38. Crash_Test_Dhimmi says:

    So the Hollywood producers did not learn from their casting mistakes in hiring Ben “Gigli” Affleck? I hope they took out a lot of “Flop insurance”. I would not watch a Ben Affleck movie even I was paid to watch it.

    • Mark-o says:

      At least in Gigli – Ben was not so fat and also older. He looks like some fat guy as Batman. More like Fatman. Christian Bale did not have two chins and a paunch like porky Ben.

  39. gerjddd says:

    all the reviews so far are that it’s a total dud.

    i think most people probably knew that the second they heard ben affleck was in it.

    that was like batman 2 with shwarzneger and bill carey, just unwatcheable.

  40. Robert Lopez says:

    Can you say “Fantastic 4 Reboot”? That was a piece of sh*t movie as this will also be. They will make all their money on the first 3 days because fools will give them their money. But after that people will start posting the truth about this garbage movie.

  41. Robert Lopez says:

    serving up Ben Affleck, one of the biggest stars of his generation. Hahahaha. Are for real? Biggest star? Hahaha

  42. Denver says:

    I’ve bought my $15.00 ticket.

  43. David says:

    The LEGO movie was the best Batman movie, period.

  44. Chris says:

    Biggest disappointment of 2016….calling it right now.

  45. They wont be making any of that 800 million off of me,I wouldn’t cross the street to watch this movie for free.

  46. Jack Armstrong says:

    They’re gonna take a bath

  47. RedW says:

    Ben Afflack as Batman…..please. As soon as I saw that, the movie faded from my “must see” list. Few actors have the chops, vibe, skill or ability to dare to follow Christian Bale, who was and will be considered the best Batman of all times. Tom Hardy, Gerard Butler or Chris Hemsworth would be MUCH better choices as they have “depth of character” oozying from them. Ben oozes a wide and deep “blank space” that highlights that he tries too hard and is un-natural. My guess is that the movie will be a bust…..and since I bring 40+ years of award-winning film making to the table as a voting member of The Academy and SAG/AFTRA….I have rarely been wrong.

    • Blacc says:

      Having seen the film I can tell you Afflecks Batman is the highlight of the movie – Eisenbergs luthor and the need to shoe horn a whole bunch of justice league nonsense into the film is what turns it into a giant cluster.

    • Burtan Tae says:

      I just read that in the Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy’s voice!

  48. BobM says:

    Mamma always said “Stupid is as stupid does.”

  49. anon says:

    That is some creative accounting.

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