Are superheroes impenetrable at the box office? Can any ol’ comic book character make a killing on the big screen?
Sony’s antihero adventure “Morbius,” starring Jared Leto as Spider-Man’s eventual foe, will attempt to answer those questions when the vampire-infused horror movie opens in 3,600 North American theaters over the weekend.
“Morbius” is estimated to sink its teeth into $40 million to $50 million in its first three days of release, according to independent tracking services. Sony, in an attempt to temper expectations around a newer Marvel character, is predicting a start closer to $33 million. Those ticket sales would be roughly in line with the Warner Bros. comic book adaptation “Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of Harley Quinn,” which became somewhat of a box office disappointment prior to the pandemic. That movie, starring Margot Robbie as the titular baddie, launched with $33 million and ended its run with a lackluster $84 million in North America.
In the case of “Morbius,” a debut near $30 million would throw cold water on the studio’s grander attempts to fashion a commercially viable rival to Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe. After “Morbius,” Sony’s Universe of Marvel Characters is chugging along with standalone stories on “Kraven the Hunter,” starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and “Madame Web,” featuring Dakota Johnson. Those names drawing a blank? Well, give ’em a beat. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that most people didn’t know their Hawkeye from their Groot. The MCU changed all that. Will the Sony’s universe add a few more figures to our cultural lexicon?
Since Morbius the Living Vampire is not nearly as well known to general audiences as Spider-Man, Batman or even Venom — the alien symbiote introduced in Tobey Maguire’s “Spider-Man 3” and later played to comedic effect by Tom Hardy — box office analysts aren’t anticipating “Morbius” to match the receipts for other recent comic book tentpoles based on those characters. For reference: “Spider-Man: No Way Home” was in its own league, securing the second-best opening weekend in history with $260 million, while Robert Pattinson’s “The Batman” pulled in $134 million to start. In a closer, more realistic comparison, the first “Venom” in 2018 debuted to a strong $80 million, and its 2021 sequel kicked off with $90 million. And last year, while the delta variant of COVID-19 was surging, “The Suicide Squad” bowed to only $26 million while playing simultaneously on HBO Max. Sony spent $75 million to produce “Morbius,” which is less than studios typically pump into superhero blockbusters. Marketing and other promotional costs added many millions more to expenses.
Sony also ponied up additional funds to delay “Morbius” a near-record seven times as movie theaters recovered from COVID-19. At one point, the film was supposed to open this January. But after back-to-back box office successes with “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (which has earned a mammoth $800 million at the domestic box office) and “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” (which tapped out theatrically with a still-impressive $213 million), the studio wanted to give a longer runway before unleashing yet another otherworldly creature feature. In its current release date, “Morbius” is well timed because it’s this weekend’s only new nationwide release, and it has been spaced out from “The Batman” and “Uncharted,” the two most recent blockbusters targeting younger males.
Daniel Espinosa directed “Morbius,” which centers on the Marvel Comics character who goes from renowned biochemist to lethal vampire after attempting to cure himself of a rare blood disease. The film, which the studio describes as a “different and uniquely dark approach to a compelling and conflicted character,” co-stars Matt Smith, Adria Arjona, Jared Harris, Al Madrigal and Tyrese Gibson. Michael Keaton, recognizable to superhero enthusiasts as Adrian Toomes a.k.a. Vulture from Disney’s MCU, also makes a brief appearance.