Box Office Guru

Box Office Preview: Son of Krypton Returns to Theaters

by | June 29, 2006 | Comments

One of the summer’s most anticipated films flies into theaters everywhere ready to kick off the second half of the blockbuster season. Superman Returns brings life back to one of cinema’s favorite franchises after nearly two decades of silence.

The early Wednesday opening will allow the super-expensive super hero saga to dominate the North American box office over the weekend preceding the Fourth of July holiday. Offering an alternative this weekend, Meryl Streep also hits the big screen with her new comedy The Devil Wears Prada which opens on Friday. With Monday being a day off for some and Tuesday being a national holiday for all, heavy traffic is expected at the multiplexes over the coming week which should propel box office revenue as we hit the year’s midway point.

After jumping from the Marvel to the DC Comics camp, director Bryan Singer presents to the world a new vision for what could arguably be the most popular super hero in Superman Returns. The PG-13 film stars unknown Brandon Routh as mild-mannered Clark Kent and the brave title character. Oscar winner Kevin Spacey plays arch-nemesis Lex Luthor, Kate Bosworth steps in as Lois Lane, and Cyclops himself James Marsden plays Lane’s new love interest. Singer directed Marsden in X-Men and its sequel and also directed Spacey in The Usual Suspects. With plenty of special effects and expensive aquatic scenes, Superman Returns is said to be the priciest film ever produced with a budget hovering in the neighborhood of $250M.

In this new story, Superman returns to Earth after a five-year absence and picks up the pieces in his life where he left off. Clark Kent magically returns to his job at the Daily Planet at the same time after a similar time away, but of course co-workers find this to be nothing more than coincidence. Luthor devises a new scheme to conquer the world and Superman must defeat evil while at the same time figure out if there is any hope for a reconnection with Lois. At 2 hours and 37 minutes, Superman Returns is an extra long piece of comic book entertainment taking over the marquees in 3,915 theaters on Wednesday and a total of 4,065 locations by Friday including Imax sites. The studio, along with its promotional partners, has spent every possible dollar available to market and promote what it hopes will be the rebirth of a lucrative franchise.

The two films that Superman’s opening can best be compared to are the tentpoles that conquered this same frame over the previous two summers – last year’s War of the Worlds and 2004’s Spider-Man 2. Each film was an expensive, effects-driven actioner that opened on the Wednesday leading up to the holiday weekend plus had a huge built-in fan base and tapped into the large sci-fi/comic book audience. The webslinger sequel bowed to a stunning $40.5M in its first day including Tuesday night midnight shows. Its massive totals for the long opening frame included $88.2M over the Friday-to-Sunday period, $115.8M over the Friday-to-Monday holiday frame, and a jaw-dropping six-day cume of $180.1M over the entire Wednesday-to-Monday span.

War of the Worlds was more subdued which was understandable since it did not have a passionate fan following like Spidey. The alien invasion pic debuted to $21.3M on Wednesday and opened with $64.9M over the Friday-to-Sunday portion, $77.1M over the Friday-to-Monday span, and $112.7M during the entire six-day period. Comparing the Wednesday-to-Monday premiere periods, War was 37% weaker than Spider-Man 2. Superman Returns has more fan frenzy than the Tom Cruise flick did so its opening should be bigger. But getting to the heights of the Doc Ock pic could be a serious challenge. Afterall, that film arrived just two years after its predecessor shattered the all-time opening weekend record (which it still holds) and became a $400M+ megablockbuster.

For the most part, critics have been very supportive of the Kal-El film calling it a welcome new installment. However, Warner Bros. received some big blows thanks to bad reviews from two of the most influential and most respected outlets – Roger Ebert and The New York Times. Fan boys won’t care, of course. They will be there in full force and since students are all out of school, grosses will be strong everyday. Spider-Man 2 had tremendous female appeal allowing it to reach the broadest possible audience. Warner Bros. has been key on getting girls and women interested in Superman by pushing the good looks of Routh, the modern sensibilities of Bosworth, and the on-screen love story between the two. While the hero-villain storyline is very much a carbon copy from the past, the romantic tale is the main part of the film that offers something new to Superman’s saga.

A special bonus the studio is giving to moviegoers is the Imax 3D presentation of the film which opens day and date in 76 locations with the standard run. Not only will it help boost the gross thanks to the higher Imax ticket prices, but it also generates an added level of excitement making it even more of an event. Plus it could help boost repeat sales as those desperate to see the film right away, but can’t get an Imax ticket upfront, might return soon after for the large-format experience. Warner Bros. has launched recent Harry Potter and Batman pics in Imax alongside the standard 35mm prints, however with Superman, the film includes 3D elements which can only be enjoyed in this format. What better way to see Krypton explode? The public is eating it up too. Well before the film opened to the public at the Loews Lincoln Square theater (New York City’s Imax outlet), the Tuesday night show was already sold out as were all of Wednesday’s Imax shows. At $15 per ticket in a huge auditorium, you can bet the grosses from that Imax theater, in addition to others across the country with slightly lower prices, will beef up the overall Superman totals.

Soaring like a bird, or a plane, Superman will undoubtedly reach great heights at the box office this weekend and early word-of-mouth could have a great impact on how many are encouraged to take a trip over the weekend. Over the Friday-to-Sunday period, Superman Returns could find itself in the vicinity of $78M while the five-day Wednesday-to-Sunday tally might climb to around $135M.

Not every moviegoer will want to see a Kryptonian in blue tights this weekend, so Fox is rolling out the femme-driven comedy The Devil Wears Prada starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway. Directed by HBO helmer David Frankel (Sex and the City, Entourage), the PG-13 film finds the former princess playing a new employee at a fashion magazine who finds herself working for an overbearing and evil editor. Clearly, Prada is aiming almost exclusively for women and fashionistas given the stars and the subject matter, although the appeal could spread across a wide age range.

Critics have been kind to the film and especially to Streep’s performance which some have called worthy of her 14th Oscar nomination. Good reviews certainly won’t hurt at the box office and could be the key to attracting women over 30. Hathaway is being counted on to bring in the young vote. The actress rose to fame anchoring the two Princess Diaries movies at Disney which grossed $108.2M and $95.1M, respectively, but has shown a more mature side recently in the acclaimed Brokeback Mountain. But Streep is the big star in Prada and will be the one to draw in ticket buyers. When headlining a female-oriented film, she doesn’t necessarily guarantee a crowd. Last fall’s Prime bowed to just $6.2M and 1998’s One True Thing opened to only $6.6M.

Since her latest film is a much more commercial vehicle, it should generate a stronger debut. However, like with every other film in the marketplace, Devil will have to deal with Superman which like a vacuum could suck up all dollars in its path given its wide appeal. Although it should skew more male, millions of women will still be going to see the super hero this weekend. That, plus the lack of male interest, will prevent Prada from flying off the shelves. Opening in over 2,800 theaters on Friday, The Devil Wears Prada might debut with around $14M over the weekend.

After a short stint at number one, Adam Sandler‘s Click will get booted down by at least one notch in its second session. The arrival of Superman should have a big impact on sophomore weekend sales. Sandler pics are not known for legs as his built-in fan base typically makes the trek out to the cinemas upfront. The last time the comedian came out with a comedy in late June was in 2002 with Mr. Deeds which bowed to $37.2M which at today’s ticket prices would be a bit higher than the $40M debut of Click last weekend. Deeds sunk by 51% in its second frame thanks to the arrival of Sony stablemate Men in Black II which, like Superman Returns, opened mid-week ahead of the Independence Day holiday. This weekend, Click might see a 45% drop to around $22M which would give the studio $79M in ten days.

Disney and Pixar have been driving away with some solid sales for Cars, but many kids will shift their attention over to the Man of Steel this week. A 40% decline would give the animated hit about $14M over the Friday-to-Sunday period and a cume of $180M after 24 days. Nacho Libre is sure to take a beating so a 50% drop to $6.5M would give Paramount a total of $64M in 17 days.

LAST YEAR: With the Fourth of July holiday falling on a Monday, the long four-day frame saw an explosive opening for the Tom Cruise sci-fi flick War of the Worlds which grossed $77.1M over the Friday-to-Monday span. Launching on a Wednesday, the Steven Spielberg-helmed hit collected a towering $112.7M in its first six days in theaters. Paramount found its way to $234.3M domestically making War the second biggest blockbuster of the summer after Revenge of the Sith. Worldwide, the alien invasion saga pulled in a colossal $596M. Holdovers rounded out the top five. Batman Begins placed second with $19.3M over four days and was followed by Mr. & Mrs. Smith with $12.7M, Bewitched with $11.1M, and Herbie: Fully Loaded with $10.8M. Opening far back in seventh with only $6M was Martin Lawrence‘s basketball comedy Rebound. The Fox release ended its season with just $16.8M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya,