Box Office: Inside 'Batman v. Superman's' Historic Drop-off
Zack Snyder's tentpole tumbled 69 percent in its second weekend, tying with 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine' for the second steepest drop in history for a marquee superhero title — only 2003's 'Hulk' did worse.
Over Easter weekend, Zack Snyder's Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice dazzled in its box-office debut, grossing a March-best $166.1 million in North America and $422.5 million worldwide, the biggest launch ever for a comic book adaptation.
But withering reviews and mixed audience reaction caught up with the Warner Bros. tentpole in its second weekend. BvS, which brought in $51.3 million, tumbled a steep 69 percent, one of the worst drops ever to impact a marquee superhero movie. It's a dubious distinction BvS shares only with 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which also fell by 69 percent. And only one other superhero movie in modern times, 2003's Hulk, has done worse, plummeting by 70 percent.
BvS's second-weekend swan dive was also the worst decline for any of Warners' previous Batman or Superman movies. Snyder's earlier Superman entry, 2013's Man of Steel, dipped by 65 percent.
Other comparisons don't favor BvS, either: Fox's scrappy Deadpool didn't open as big as BvS when it was released in February (opening to $132.5 million), but it earned more domestically its second weekend — $56.5 million — than BvS did, and it hung on to more of its audience, falling by just 57 percent. (Overseas, it's a different story, where Dawn of Justice has already outgrossed Deadpool.)
So how should BvS fall-off be read? Generally speaking, Hollywood studios don't like it when their big tentpoles fall more than 62 percent or 63 percent. When they do, studios consider it a sign that something is amiss. The big exception is young adult film adaptations, including the final Harry Potter movie, which fell by 72 percent in 2011, and three of the Twilight movies, which saw declines of 69 percent to 70 percent.
BvS faced two key obstacles: It sports a dismal 29 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And it's the only movie opening above $150 million that's received a B CinemaScore; the rest earned a B+ or some variation of an A grade.
"That's where the critical backlash comes into play, and also the ho-hum word of mouth," says box-office analyst Jeff Bock. "Had this been certified fresh, or even championed by audiences, BvS: Round 2 wouldn't have seen a fall quite so fatal. That doesn't mean WB hasn't succeeded in relaunching the DC Universe. We all know money talks the loudest in the blockbuster game, but it does mean the margin for error for the upcoming DC sequels and spinoffs will be very narrow."
Warner Bros. counters that BvS is doing just fine, considering it has already earned $682.9 million globally, including $260.4 million domestically. The studio also argues that the steep drop is attributable to the fact that the movie earned a massive $27.7 million in Thursday-night previews (which were then added into its first Friday gross), making three-day comparisons between its first two weekends difficult.
However, other movies that have done just as much in previews, or even more, haven't been hit by such a big decline. In December, Star Wars: The Force Awakens posted $57 million in previews on its way to a $248 million domestic debut, both records. In its second weekend, which fell over Christmas, Force Awakens dipped a scant 40 percent.
At those numbers, though, Force Awakens could be considered an outlier. A fairer comparison to BvS is Disney/Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron, which took in $27.6 million in previews on its way to a $191.3 million debut in May 2015. In its second weekend, that movie fell 59 percent. And three years earlier, the first Avengers movie fell even less — 50 percent, after opening to $208.8 million.
Surveying 16 Hollywood tentpoles, including both Avengers movies and Force Awakens, points to an average second-weekend decline of 59 percent. That's 10 points less than BvS's drop.
Focusing in on superhero films, titles that saw declines of 66 percent or more in their second weekend ultimately resulted in box-office disappointments. During summer 2015, the ill-fated Fantastic Four reboot dropped 68.2 percent, ending up with a meager $168 million worldwide. X-Men Origins: Wolverine, after dropping by 69 percent, topped out at $373.6 million globally. Closer to the dawn of the modern superhero movie, Hulk, after its 69.7 percent tumble, collected just $245 million worldwide.
Among other Batman and Superman movies, 2012's The Dark Knight Rises fell 61 percent, while 2008's The Dark Knight fell 53 percent. Drops for other superhero movies that are considered success stories include 64 percent for 2014's X-Men: Days of Future Past (and even at that number, Fox wasn't happy), 62 percent for 2007's Spider-Man 3, 59 percent for 2010's Iron Man 2, 58 percent for 2013's Iron Man 3 and 57 percent for 2014's Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Despite the big second-week drop, some analysts urged perspective when it came to BvS's overall numbers. "[BvS] has already earned enough money overall to make it an unqualified box office hit and with close to $700 million globally, the concept clearly overshadowed the critics," said comScore's Paul Dergarabedian.
He added: "[At] the end of the day, it's the bottom dollar that counts, not percentage drops that define a movie's ultimate success or failure."