When Warner Brothers rescheduled Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice for May 6, 2016, which Marvel Studios had already staked claim to with an unnamed project, it was viewed as an act of war. Here was Warners, a studio with a deep reserve of superhero IP through their sister company. DC Comics, but one that they were never able to fully capitalize on, using the blockbuster success of Man of Steel to take on the master of the comic book film, Marvel Studios, on what would be close to the start of the summer 2016 movie season. It was a statement of how serious they were about starting to take their comic book properties and showed that they believed that they could stand up anything the competition had to offer.
Of course, many fans and journalists didn’t actually believe that both Batman v. Superman and Captain America 3, what Marvel eventually announced as their May 6, 2016 film, would actually come out on the same day. While comic book fans would probably see both if they had the chance, having them open the same weekend would pretty much guarantee that the opening weekend grosses for both would be lower than they should be. It seemed logical that one of the studios would swerve out of this game of chicken, and many were hoping that it would be DC/Warners that would blink due to their audacity at claiming a spot that already belonged to Marvel.
Well, Warners did blink, moving Batman v. Superman to March 25, 2016. The Internet, being what it is, started proclaiming Marvel’s victory in this war. The release date move seemed like an act of cowardice on Warners part, especially considering it came after Captain America: The Winter Soldier surpassed Man of Steel in all-time worldwide grosses and Guardians of the Galaxy, a Marvel concept with little or no recognition amongst the general public, opened to a whopping $24 million over projections, tipping the potential clash ever so slightly into Marvel’s favor. To some, this added up to Warners tucking its tail between its legs and running after they realized that the pairing of Batman and Superman might not be enough to win that war.
Not so fast, claims Entertainment Weekly. With a column on their website today titled ‘Batman v Superman’ versus ‘Captain America': The superhero showdown that everybody won, they quote a Warners executive and a film median analyst saying that the move was a “brilliant maneuver” and go on to devote column space to proving that point.
From media analyst Paul Dergarabedian:
There’s that perception [that Warner Bros. retreated], but I think at the end of the day, he who wins is just the one who’s smart. They’re going to have an incredible amount of playing time before the Marvel movie kicks off. Putting this movie on a non-conventional date is going to pay big benefits for Warner Bros., for the theater owners—who love films that have legs—and for the audience. [Customers] will have a really cool movie to go out and see in March.
From Warners’ president of domestic distribution, Dan Fellman:
The reality now is there really isn’t a bad week to open a movie. If you look at the summer box office this year, you can see that there were so many movies, one after the other. You can start with Spider-Man, two weeks later Godzilla, and then Maleficent, and then Edge of Tomorrow, and then Jump Street and Transformers. And the one thing they all had in common, not one of them did over $250 million. We’ll be the first one up [in 2016], which is very important, and we’ll have six weeks before Captain America comes in.
Nowhere in the text is any dissenting opinion that questions the date shift as anything less than genius, nor is there the typical disclaimer EW usually runs in Warners stories that they and Warners are both owned by parent company Time Warner. These omissions make the article seem less like a defense of a savvy move by Warner Brothers than a piece of corporately mandated spin propaganda.
If there was a little bit of even handed reporting, Dan Fellman’s statement might have been challenged a bit more. Such as:
- The $250 domestic total as a marker of a hit has some issues. For instance, domestic tallies alone to not make hits anymore. Yes, Transformers: Age of Extinction has made less than $250 domestically (so far, as I will discuss below) but has already made more than a billion dollars worldwide, quadrupling its budget.
- Speaking of multiplying its budget, the true test of a films success is how much it makes over its budget, not how much it makes altogether. If the benchmark for success is making two times its budget, then all those examples Fellman cites can be considered a hit because they have all doubled their budget in worldwide grosses. Yes, even the “disappointing” Edge of Tomorrow. Heck, by this yardstick, 22 Jump Street is a smash success. It made five times its budget back.
- Name dropping Malificent and Transformers: Age of Extinction is not something Fellman should have done. Both are still in theaters and are within striking distance of Fellman’s legendary $250 million domestic mark. Granted, the former is at $235 million and nearing the end of its theatrical run, so it passing the $250 plateau is slim, but Transformers: Age of Extinction is at $242 million and should be around for a few more weeks. It seems a given that it will surpass $250 before it leaves theaters.
- That being said, there have been 83 films to make more than $250 million at the domestic box office to date. Of those 83, only 6 were released outside of the summer months (May through August) or the holiday season (November and December). Of those six films, 3 were released in March–the aforementioned The Hunger Games and Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Alice in Wonderland. So while it is possible to make $250 million domestically in March, it is a whole lot easier to do so when the kids are home from school.
So, while it is possible that Batman v. Superman will make $250 in its March release date, the date itself will have very little to do with its success. It will have to be a quality film that viewers want to see bad enough that they are willing to see and see again, scheduling it in when school is not in session if they want to bring the kids in. And Fellman’s argument that a summer release is no longer lucrative might save face, but it doesn’t really hold water.
We do get an explanation from Fellman as to why Warners felt confident in scheduling Batman v. Superman head-to-head against Marvel’s film. It was because they didn’t think there would be a Marvel film to go head-to-head with:
In terms of going back and reviewing the situation, it looked to us—and maybe our reconnaissance wasn’t great—that they were not going to have a movie [ready] on that date. Just that they held onto it and they might not be able to deliver. But they took another position.
Yes, they took the revolutionary position of delivering on a release date they promised. Granted, holding firm to a release date must be a foreign concept in the halls of Warners (lest we forget that this is the third release date Batman v. Superman has had since it was first announced, not to mention the false starts and inevitable starts the Superman and Justice League franchises have had) and that Marvel did some release date shuffling early in their existence, this whole brouhaha came about because Warners mistakenly thought that a studio that had pretty much consistently met its release dates for over two years would not meet this one and allow Warners to win the staring contest by default. That is just beautiful, and typical of Warners logic when dealing with all things DC.
The one piece of actual news in the article is that Warners plans to supply names to go with those release dates they announced on Wednesday by the end of the month.