Not even bad reviews and the "sad Ben Affleck" meme could stop “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Global ticket sales for the opening weekend of the Warner Bros. superhero showdown were $170 million domestically and more than $424 million around the world, helped in part by the studio’s biggest opening ever in China.
And that’s good news for parent company Time Warner, as “Batman v. Superman” is the starting point for an expanded DC comics universe with many more films in the pipeline. The Frame's host John Horn spoke with Ben Fritz at the Wall Street Journal to get more on Warner Bros.' latest superhero blockbuster. Ben started out by detailing what the studio has riding on the success of the DC universe.
DC is really the number one hope for Warner’s film business right now. They’re kind of in the midst of a needed comeback post-“Harry Potter,” post-“Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit.” And they have 10 DC movies planned over the next five years. They’re very much trying to replicate the success that Disney has had with Marvel. And I think their theory is, Well, the DC superheroes like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman — they’re better known than Marvel superheroes like Iron Man and Captain America. So there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be as— or more — successful on the big screen.
How important is it for Warner Bros. to seed the clouds with this movie so that these future films are established?
It’s really become a successful formula for Hollywood studios where you connect the characters so they live in the same fictional universe and they visit each other in the movies. That way even films that feature new characters are kind of like sequels, they’re kind of like a continuing story that carries audiences along. Again, this has really worked for Marvel. People have really gone from Iron Man to Captain America to Thor to Avengers to Guardians of the Galaxy and so on because they all know each other, they all live in the same universe, so it feels like one big story. It doesn’t feel like each movie is starting from scratch as its own thing.
Is there a potential for one of these films to bomb catastrophically?
Well, actually, we have had one big bomb. Remember last summer “Fantastic Four” was a debacle and Fox lost a lot of money on that. Because what’s happening now is that there are so many superhero films that they don’t all feel like events. It can’t be an event if it happens every month. It used to be, Oh my god, "Avengers," I’ve never seen that before. Now we’ve seen it. We’ve seen three “Iron Man” [movies] and two “Thors” and two “Captain Americas” and now another “Batman” and “Superman” movie. So audiences are not impressed by the fact that they exist, so they all have to be good. And, as we know, it’s very hard to make a good movie. So I certainly think you’re going to see more bombs in this genre going forward.
Let’s talk a little bit more about whether or not a movie has to be good, because the reviews from “Batman v. Superman” have been brutal. Do those reviews matter even just a little bit?
I think fan reaction I’ve been hearing is mixed at best. The question is [whether] people really going to like it [and] keep coming back to see it maybe two or three times. And then are they going to be excited to see the next DC movie after this with the “Suicide Squad,” and then see “Wonder Woman” and then see “Justice League” and so on. Or are they going to see this movie and be kind of turned off? It’s tough to say. There are times like “Fantastic Four” when critics seem to mirror what audiences think. But you know, all the “Transformers” movies have grossed a billion dollars plus despite being loathed by critics. So it’s not a guarantee.
How much of the success of a film like this can be measured with domestic box office? Or do we really have to look globally?
The global number is really what matters. Warner Bros. is very much trying to establish DC as a franchise that appeals to audiences around the world. Certainly you can’t have it fail in the U.S., [which] is still the number one most lucrative market where they make the most money and it’s very important to do well here. But it can’t just do well here. It’s got to be appealing in Russia, in China, in Brazil, in Korea, in Germany and so on. And certainly Warners has pulled out all the stops around the world to hype this film.