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Warner Bros. Sets Bar High for Latest – and Priciest – Incarnation of Superman

Motion picture group prexy Jeff Robinov predicts 'Man of Steel' will be studio's highest performer ever

Superman is carrying the weight of the world on his back as he flies into theaters June 14.

There’s strong industry buzz that “Man of Steel,” yet another bigscreen incarnation of the iconic DC Comics superhero, will be one of the summer’s biggest hits.

SEE ALSO: “Man of Steel” on Track for $100 Million Debut

Warner Bros. motion pictures group president Jeff Robinov went so far as to predict it will be the studio’s highest performer ever. That would mean the 3D movie, which cost about $225 million to produce and another $150 million to market and release around the globe, would have to top the $1.3 billion cume for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” and the $1 billion-plus each earned by four other Warner releases, “The Dark Knight,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”

The potential business impact of a “Man of Steel” windfall could be profound for Warner Bros., which needs to build new franchises that can yield the kind of reliable profi ts that sprang from the now-retired “Harry Potter” movie series.

If “Man of Steel,” starring Henry Cavill, becomes a blockbuster, it would move the Burbank studio one giant leap closer to preparing the ground for its longplanned all-star superhero pic “Justice League,” which could match the box office prowess of “Marvel’s The Avengers.” That 2012 Disney release, featuring Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk and Thor, amassed $1.5 billion worldwide.

Warner could fi nally fully exploit its DC Comics library beyond Batman and Superman, and bring to the screen such characters as Aquaman, the Flash, Wonder Woman and another Green Lantern — whose costly 2011 predecessor flopped.

Expectations are that Warner will release a “Justice League” film within the next four years, with the timing dependent on whether a second “Man of Steel” would go first.

Robinov acknowledges the pic will establish the tone and feel for the upcoming DC movies. “The plan is for a universe that will allow for other DC characters,” he explains. “Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy was set very much in an isolated universe and done as a stand-alone without other superheroes.”

Robinov says that Nolan, a producer on “Man of Steel,” came up with the idea for a new Superman during discussions about “Inception.”

“(Nolan) said that he and David Goyer had come up with a way of doing the Superman story that wouldn’t exclude the future possibility of including the other DC characters,” recalls Robinov. “So Chris and David delivered a draft that did that.”

Once Zack Snyder came aboard to direct “Man of Steel,” the director told the studio, ‘I know what to do with the movie,’says Robinov. “So you’ll see both of their hands on it in a very collaborative way.”

Snyder could use a hit. While his 2007 film “300” was a surprise box office triumph, each of his past three movies — “Sucker Punch,” “Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” and “Watchmen” — have missed badly.

This is Warner’s second reboot of Superman in seven years, following the disappointing perf of director Bryan Singer’s expensive “Superman Returns,” which took in just $391 million globally.

“It had a lot of emotion, but not enough action sequences,” says Robinov.

The exec says that “Man of Steel” has a good mix of emotion and action. “(It has) a very fresh feel, and it takes you into the DC universe with the introduction of Krypton at the start of the film and the introduction of DC villains,” he says. “It’s a world that you have not seen before.”

The plot centers on the young Clark Kent learning of his powers and extraterrestrial origins, his quest to find out why he was sent to Earth and the discovery that the hero in him must emerge if he is to save the world from annihilation and become the symbol of hope for mankind.

Unlike the “Dark Knight” movies, whose vengeance-seeking central character spends much time battling his own darkest impulses, Superman is more sympathetic. “Superman’s character is still about goodness,” says Deborah Snyder, one of the film’s four producers (she’s also married to the helmer). “I don’t think that goes out of style. There’s a morality, a wholesomeness that’s ingrained in this character.”

But that squeaky-clean image required a reconsideration — something more in line with the struggles of an Everyman to whom audiences can relate.

“We’ve seen him portrayed in the past as this kind of goodie two-shoes, Boy Scout character that didn’t feel very realistic,” says Deborah Snyder, who produced the picture with Nolan and his wife Emma Thomas, and Charles Roven.

“He’s trying to figure out who he is and what his place is in the world. He’s emotionally vulnerable. These are the things that humanize him,” Snyder adds.

The filmmakers took a realistic approach to the visual effects, moving away from the highly stylized, digitally enhanced visuals of Snyder’s “300” and “Watchmen” and toward something that more reflected the human side of the movie’s hero.

“Zack always said it’s ironic that this is the most realistic film that he’s ever made and it’s Superman,” says Snyder. “A lot of times before, we would be on a complete greenscreen stage, and we used very few set pieces and the rest we did in the computer. Whereas in this film, we tried to incorporate more live-action plates. It was always about using something real.”

With the opening in sight, Superman supporters are fired up.

“For years, people in the business have been saying Superman isn’t relevant because he’s not hip and edgy like some other characters are — which is really short-sighted,” says producer Daniel Alter (“Hitman,” “Apparition”). “His story is the most iconic. You just have to go back to the source material and reboot it a little more modern and gritty for today’s audiences, and you’re going to get a film that if it delivers, will launch a bigger universe than any other superhero movie.”

Now all Superman needs to do is fly — really high.

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