Long Distance Box Office: Summer’s Superhero Movies!


We’ve been taking some time off from doing these long distance box office analyses while we’ve been dealing with Sundance and other things, but it’s probably about time we got to some of the big summer movies. This week, we’re not just going to look at one of the biggest summer movies, but we’re going to look at three of them! While the answer may be obvious, this week we’re going to try and answer the question on many minds: “Which superhero movie will win the summer?”

We have three big superhero movies, one the third in a trilogy, another being the accumulation of a series of successful movies based on popular characters, and the third being a reboot of a hugely popular film franchise with a new director and cast.

Clearly, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises (opening July 20) is coming into the summer with a HUGE advantage, being the sequel to a $533 million grossing movie that really changed how moviegoers looked at superhero movies. Then again, Marvel’s The Avengers (opening May 4) hopes to prove the sum is greater than the parts by combining six characters from previous summer blockbusters into one large scale epic that’s been the culmination of years of planning.

In some ways, that makes the summer’s weakest link (or at least the one most difficult to determine) Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man (opening July 3) even though it’s following in the footsteps of Sam Raimi’s three movies that have grossed a billion between them domestically. The irony of this idea is that back in 2002, Sony’s first Spider-Man movie set the bar for all the $100 million plus opening superhero movies that have come since then, including Iron Man, its sequel and The Dark Knight, by opening with more than $114 million, a new opening record. It grossed $400 million, which at the time was “Star Wars” type money. Its sequel Spider-Man 2 opened two years later just before the fourth of July and after making $64 million in its first two days, it made another $115.7 million over the extended four-day weekend.

Three years later, Spider-Man 3 returned to the May summer kick-off slot, setting a new opening record with $151 million, but most fanboy moviegoers hated the movie quite vehemently, and it grossed $336 million, which was impressive but less than the previous two movies. This may have contributed to Sony and the producers deciding to start over again rather than doing a fourth movie with Raimi and Tobey Maguire, both whom probably would want more money.

Working for a site like SuperHeroHype, we have immediate access to the audiences who rush out to see these movies and a few months back, the question of which of the three summer superhero movies our readers were most looking forward to came up in our weekly poll. The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers were both way ahead of The Amazing Spider-Man and probably one of the reasons was because of the changes to a director and actor few moviegoers really know that well. In other words, for a long time, The Amazing Spider-Man was an unknown commodity compared to the other two, which may have been why Sony did a big global event last week to finally get the word out there what people can expect from the movie as well as ramping up their viral campaigns to a level not unlike what Warner Bros. used for The Dark Knight four years back.

Because the 4th of July takes place on a Wednesday this year, The Amazing Spider-Man is opening the day before on a Tuesday, hoping to get a bump from the holiday, although that means it won’t be able to continue its opening weekend record battle with Batman after The Dark Knight broke the record set by Spider-Man 3. (That record has since been broken by the last “Harry Potter.”) Like with Batman Begins, we don’t think people will be rushing out to see The Amazing Spider-Man the way they did the Raimi sequels and its business is likely to be spread out over the opening week. If word-of-mouth is good, it will be able to maintain business for a few good weeks until The Dark Knight Rises opens on July 20, which is likely to absolutely destroy its legs. It also doesn’t help that it’s opening just a few days after Paramount’s new G.I. Joe movie.

In many ways, The Avengers has a great advantage over the other two being the first movie of the summer which means it can explode out of the gate and get everyone excited about the summer (and the other two movies).

Obviously, one of the biggest selling point for “Avengers” is the return of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark–something that helped the two “Iron Man” movies gross $300 million domestically–although last year’s Thor and Captain America: the First Avenger introduced new characters who have also proven popular among moviegoers, as are Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. The Avengers also marks the return of the Incredible Hulk since Universal’s The Incredible Hulk in 2008, with the character portrayed this time by Mark Ruffalo. And of course, there’s a lot of talk of Jeremy Renner’s introduction as Hawkeye, which should help solidify his rising superstar status after his part in the success of Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.

While it does have movies like Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows and Battleship nipping at its heels, we don’t think they’ll have that big of an effect on it since there’ll be enough people who won’t necessarily rush out and might wait to see it over Memorial Day weekend. (Another thing to bear in mind is that The Avengers is going to be the first Marvel movie from their parent company Disney and their marketing and promotion department are going to pull out all the stops, as seen by being the only one of the three with a Super Bowl spot.)

The Dark Knight Rises is a slam dunk no-brainer if only for the fact that like with The Avengers, this is about the return of a fan favorite, which is Christian Bale’s Batman as directed by Christopher Nolan. In this case, the anticipation for their return has built over the four years since The Dark Knight and only a third of the people who saw the original movie (in North America) will have to go out to see its sequel opening weekend for it to set a new opening weekend record.

One thing that may hold The Dark Knight Rises back is that it doesn’t have the Heath Ledger factor and the mystery surrounding the lead actor’s death before the release of the movie, which may have played a large part in many non-comic book fans going out to see the movie. Making up for that will be Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, a character that women generally love played by an actress who has appeared in movies they’ve loved from The Princess Diaries to The Devil Wears Prada. While some guys are reticent about Hathaway’s casting, it’s kind of genius on many levels if you think about it. Tom Hardy’s Bane is a bit more of an unknown because not that many Americans are aware of his work, but Bane is generally well known among younger comic readers since he was only introduced in the mid-90s. (We’ll try to forget that the character appeared in Batman & Robin, still considered the worst Batman movie ever made.) Hardy’s appeared in movies like Warrior and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, neither huge at the box office, but he’s also co-starring with Reese Witherspoon in this week’s This Means War, which will show another side of him and possibly get women more interested in this terrific British actor. (UPDATE: Oh, right, and Hardy was also in the 2010 blockbuster Inception, ya big dummy! How did you forget that one since it was his previous movie with Nolan?)

The Dark Knight was two-and-a-half hours long yet still brought in $158 million opening weekend and in four years, more theaters have opened and one can expect there’s been enough of an increase in ticket prices to help contribute to a much bigger opening even if Nolan makes his third and final movie longer than its predecessor. Even so, you’re likely to have a hard time finding anyone who doesn’t know that The Dark Knight Rises is on its way this summer–apparently, it’s already sold out screenings six months in advance–and we think it’s going to have a crazy big opening day and opening weekend. Whether it surpasses the previous Batman movie in terms of total gross will rely fully on whether Nolan was able to deliver a three-peat, but $400 million is the low end for this one.

So there you have it. All three of the summer’s superhero movies should open in over 4,000 theaters and have the benefit of being in enhanced formats like IMAX. Even without a 3D ticket bump, The Dark Knight Rises should set a new opening weekend record when it opens–probably somewhere between $170 and 175 million–and as we said, we expect it will also go on to make $400 million with ease. Marvel’s The Avengers will also open north of $100 million, we’ll say $125 to 130 million, essentially in the same range as Iron Man 2 and that will go on to do $300 million or slightly more. The Amazing Spider-Man will have the disadvantage of opening earlier in the week, but we think it can still bring in $80 to 85 million over its first three-day weekend after making $75 to 80 million on Tuesday to Thursday so it should also join the other two in the $300 million total gross category for the summer. In fact we think it will be a close race between it and The Avengers for second place behind The Dark Knight Rises.

Next time, we’re going to look at another risky reboot coming out this summer. Stay tuned.