Last week Steven Spielberg predicted that the movie business could soon implode-- speaking to film students at USC with George Lucas--should a handful huge-budgeted films flop at the same time. So far, among this summer's tentpoles, only Sony's "After Earth" faces a potential loss (full international returns not yet certain).
The second-best opening weekend of the year (and actually since last July), at a $113 million estimate, is exactly where "Man of Steel" should be, despite low-ball estimates prior to the weekend. Films that cost over $200 million are becoming common, and they need to open at the $100 million or better level to be guaranteed hits. Thus the media ballyhoo over "Man of Steel"'s success feeds into the inexorable studio push to focus on expensive, franchise films as their raison d'etre. Box office pundits leave out the fact that "Man of Steel" HAD to reach $100 million or better or it would be a failure.
No one is lavishing similar praise on the achievement of two standalone, non-franchise releases: "This Is the End" and "Now You See Me" both pulled audiences and competed well against the "Man of Steel" juggernaut. This should be another lesson learned, although it is a tougher one to recreate.
The success of "Man of Steel" brought the total for the top 10 to $195 million, way up from $110 million a year ago. This reduces the gap of the year to date total by a third (2013 now lags by a bit under $200 million, with the summer overall a bit up after a terrible first four months).
1. Man of Steel (Warner Bros.) NEW - Cinemascore: A-; Criticwire grade: B-; Metacritic score: 55
$113,080,000 in 4,207 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $28,879; Cumulative: $125,080,000
Perfectly marketed, playing on built-in audience expectations and with producer Christopher Nolan participating (he worked closely with writer David S. Goyer), anything less than this super-gross would have been a problem.
With 3-D surcharges aiding the total (about 40% of the gross came from these locations), this is a new non-inflation adjusted record gross for a June opening (more tentpoles have delivered in May and July in recent years). Without premium 3-D Nolan's last two Batman films took in $158-161 million their first weekends; "The Avengers" and "Iron Man 3" releases, also 3-D, did $207 and $174 million, significantly more.
Warner Bros. wouldn't have made this film, with its $225 million budget before marketing expenses, with an anticipated opening gross any less than this. It was risky, after their Bryan Singer-directed "Superman Returns" failed to relaunch the franchise. Nolan's involvement added a darker tone to the project, and Warners go-to director Zack Snyder (R-rated "300" opened to $70 million in March, while "Watchman" and "Sucker Punch" were disappointments in relation to cost) aimed this mainstream commercial action picture at fanboys, if not critics.
Openings in 24 other territories -- most of the major ones still to come -- took in around $25 million, #1 for the weekend in all. Superman has never been as big a draw outside the U.S. as other comic-book characters, although Warners has pushed to change that. Unlike other recent blockbusters, international isn't dominating this story. Upcoming results will go a long way toward knowing what size of a hit this will be, though it looks like a profitable start to a multi-picture enterprise.
What comes next: This is unlikely to best "Iron Man 3" as top 2013 release, but should place in second or even third (look out for "Despicable Me 2").
2. This Is the End (Sony) NEW - Cinemascore: B+; Criticwire grade: B+; Metacritic score: 68
$20,500,000 in 3,055 theaters; PSA: $6,710; Cumulative: $32,800,000
In its first five days, this all-star comedy from first-time directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (long time buddies and writing collaborators) has already grossed almost its entire production budget. Rogen and pals James Franco, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Danny McBride and Jay Baruchel (veterans of previous Rogen-starring comedies like "Pineapple Express" and "Super Bad") all play exaggerated versions of themselves as they face the end of the world at Franco's Hollywood Hills home. The laugh-fest received better than expected reviews given its raunchy, over-the-top content, and joins "Now You See Me" as a better-than-expected non-franchise entry in the middle of release schedule packed with action and kids movies.
The gross on its own for the weekend isn't eye-popping (although the solid first two days makes the total so more impressive). The key here will be whether, having gained traction against "Man of Steel" (no easy task with that film grabbing so much attention) it can hold on with word of mouth and push its way towards a $100 million gross. There's also a question of how much international appeal this will have (this opened first in U.S./Canada, with staggered foreign openings over the next several months; it will likely score the majority of its gross domestically). But in the wake of the disappointing initial grosses for Sony's four times as expensive "After Earth," this marks a rebound for the studio.
This is Emma Watson's second opening of the weekend -- she is the lead in Sofia Coppola's limited opener "Bling Ring." And after Joss Whedon shot his "Much Ado About Nothing" at his house, setting this at Franco's residence suggests, if not a trend, at least a curious same-time coincidence.
What comes next: This is bigger than "The Internship," last week's comedy release, and comes two weeks before the more female-centric "The Heat," so it should have a shot at sustaining a run that could approach $100 million if enough word of mouth continues.