And with that, The Batman has officially arrived! Hotly anticipated and wrapped up in intrigue thanks to the casting of Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne, Warner Bros. is hoping that this film turns the tide for them after a year of ridicule (however unfair) based on their decision to put all their entire 2021 slate on HBO Max. It’s looking to do the job. Elsewhere, we’ll see how well Uncharted and Dog hold up against this new entrant into the top ten and I am hopeful for their success.
The Batman is quite interesting as it is coming to theaters at the conjunction of several different crossroads for Warner Bros. As mentioned above, this will be Warner Bros. first major release since ending their 2021 “Project Popcorn” venture. They took a ton of heat for their decision to release their entire 2021 slate simultaneously both in theaters and on HBO Max, with many saying that they left a bunch of money on the table in box office receipts, but I will always feel the need to defend their decision. Sure, in retrospect, it may not have been the smartest, but it was a bold one that Warner Bros. made with the intention not only to build their subscriber base but also to give themselves some insurance while releasing films in theaters during the pandemic (to their credit, both Godzilla vs Kong and Dune did well, all things considered). They made the best decision they could with the information they had available. It’s interesting to look at The Batman in this context as it was originally scheduled for a 2021 release. However, given pandemic-related delays, the film was pushed into 2022, though many have speculated that the film would have been ready for a 2021 release and that Warner largely pushed the film into 2022 so as to avoid having a simultaneous HBO Max release to undercut its box office. This is pure speculation, but given that many studios pushed “sure-fire” hit films (particularly Universal with Jurassic World: Dominion and Minions: Rise of Gru) into 2022 so as to protect them from the pandemic, I wouldn’t put it past Warner, seeing how their 2021 films were performing (which was badly), to have done the same.
The Batman also comes at a time of great scrutiny for the DC film brand as a whole. I won’t go too much into history, but it is safe to say that most are aware of the fact that the DCEU has not been nearly as successful as it could be. By rushing into an Avengers-style team-up film instead of patiently laying the groundwork like Marvel proper, the DC films have been of considerably varied quality and box office success, some charting the highest of highs like that of Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Joker, while most others have hit the lowest of lows like that of Justice League, Birds of Prey, and The Suicide Squad (both films quite frankly). The Batman stands apart from the rest of DC, in a similar fashion to that of Joker as neither film shares any continuity with the rest of the DCEU at large, instead of focusing on the Batman universe and taking a highly stylistic, yet still gritty and grounded approach to the storytelling. That worked wonders for Joker which had an amazing October opening, pulled in over $1 billion worldwide, and won three Oscars including Best Actor, so there is reason to be hopeful for Matt Reeves’ The Batman which looks to be taking a similarly dark and grim approach, reportedly in line with films like David Fincher’s Seven as well as Christopher Nolan’s previous Dark Knight trilogy. It is confusing for audiences, though, as without a firm connection to the DCEU, it further segments the DC fanbase and mashes up the continuity, even with films like The Flash, Aquaman: The Lost Kingdom, Batgirl, and even a Wonder Woman 3 on the horizon. Then again, this might be what Warner is aiming for as The Flash movie will reportedly involve time travel is likely to reboot the continuity of the DCEU. We’ll see how well that works out.
Back to the matter at hand, The Batman remains a highly anticipated film as audiences are excited to see if Robert Pattinson can pull off the role. Projections going into the weekend were quite strong, with estimates between $115-125 million domestically coming from multiple sources. Reviews dropped earlier this week and are generally positive (85% on Rotten Tomatoes, 7.7/10 average rating), noting the film as extremely bleak and having a weak ending, but still unanimously praising the performances, direction, well-executed detective story, and overall noir atmosphere. The film reportedly takes the grounded realism of Nolan’s trilogy (hugely successful at the box office) and is able to saturate it with the style of the animated series (which has an enduring legacy as, arguably, the best and most beloved Batman adaptation on screen), which should cast a pretty wide net for fans of the Caped Crusader. It sure looks that way as preview grosses were reported to have come in at $21.6 million, very high even for a non-pandemic feature (though, that number does deserve a bit of recalibration as it encompasses more than just your typical Thursday night preview grosses, also including $4 million from Tuesday and Wednesday fan screenings as well as $17.6 million from proper Thursday night previews; that’s still a high number but I figure clarity is best). When looking at comparisons for other DC Thursday night preview grosses, $17.6 million puts it on par with Wonder Woman ($11 million in previews, $103 million overall opening) and Justice League ($13 million/$93 million) in 2017, and The Dark Knight ($18.5 million/$158 million) in 2008, so we know The Batman will definitively be crossing the $100 million-threshold this weekend. There have also been early reports that the film is on track for a Friday gross of $55 million, which would set it on track for an opening of at least $130 million by the end of the weekend, but it seems a bit early to be putting a stake in its Friday gross just yet. Plus, I think there are some other variables to consider.
First, it should be noted that while The Batman‘s reviews are generally positive, critics do have some complaints. This is natural for any film, but what draws my attention is the fact that practically all critics have made mention of how they feel the ending is subpar in one way or another. Some say it is simply not as strong as the rest of the film, some say it sticks out, and others even venture further to say that it completely derails the film (they are a minority, but still noticeable). The reason this strikes me is that, generally, the ending of a film can have a lot of effect on word-of-mouth for it going forward. The ending is the last thing audiences see and thus generates the biggest impression on them as they leave the theater. If the ending of an otherwise mediocre film is strong, audiences may leave the theater feeling that they enjoyed it more than they actually did. Conversely, a subpar ending to an otherwise strong film might leave the audience with bad tastes in their mouths. If The Batman‘s ending really is notably weak, this could affect word of mouth through the weekend.
The other variables are more logistical in nature, namely that the film is three hours long and that, while its rating is PG-13, it skews darker, bleaker, and more violent than most other comic book films. These factors concern me in a practical way as 1) a longer run time means that the film isn’t able to play as many times in theaters as a shorter film might, thus there are fewer showtimes and fewer opportunities for the audiences to pay to see it which eats into grosses, and 2) a more violent, darker picture, makes for a more niche and generally smaller audience. Of course, it may seem foolish to have these concerns in a world where an R-rated Joker film can earn over $1 billion at the box office, but that was a notably different case. Aside from being a cheaper picture ($55 million to The Batman’s reported $200 million), Joker felt fresher as it was a solo origin film for a famous villain that didn’t feature a hero featured in it. There was intrigue in seeing just how the filmmakers would pull that story off. Combined with polarizing reviews, which not only made the film a lightning rod for controversy but also generated intense fanfare, Joker became a must-see event. Meanwhile, while the trailers have been well-received, The Batman still stands as another “dark and gritty” origin film for a character that audiences know all too well. Sure, it will break $100 million, but will it end up on the higher end of that $115-125 million projection? I’m willing to say yes and a gross of $120 million, but I would not be surprised to see it narrowly miss that mark. We’ll see, but no matter what, we know The Batman will end up on top this weekend.
As for the rest of the top ten, it’s all holdovers from here on out. Fascinatingly, however, while I’ve been incredibly excited by the fact that the past few weeks have seen the box office’s top ten entrants all have grosses over $1 million, the presence of The Batman does have an understandable gravitational pull. This is resulting in, likely, the last two entries in the top ten being set to gross under $1 million, which saddens me, but hey, this is the price we pay for a healthy blockbuster ecosystem.
As for our, now former, “box office rulers” Uncharted and Dog, one is likely to have a relatively steep drop, while the other I am expecting to hold pretty steadily. Of the two, Uncharted is most likely to drop off big because of its status as the blockbuster du jour. Normally, a broadly appealing blockbuster would be able to stave off competition pretty well (just looked at No Way Home), but it was noted on opening weekend that Uncharted does skew young and male, two demographics that The Batman definitely caters to. Now, to be fair, Uncharted does have the benefit of playing to a slightly younger crowd than The Batman will most likely play to but it is still a movie riding the coattails of its star being a major comic book superhero actor, so having to do battle with another major comic book superhero movie is going to dent it. All things considered, I am inclined to think that Uncharted will indeed hold its own given the strength of its performance last weekend where it had a much better hold for a video game movie than one would’ve expected. Taking into account that increased competition, a drop of around -50% seems likely, which would see it grossing $11.5 million this weekend in second place. Still, I am curious to see how well Tom Holland can square off against his former The Devil All the Time co-star, Pattinson, so we’ll just have to see how this one plays out.
On the other hand, I’m not at all worried about Dog. As discussed previously, the Channing Tatum vehicle has an established audience that skews female and is broader and more family-friendly in appeal. This should allow it to avoid having its audience sucked away by The Batman. It’s also just a smaller movie in general so it’s more likely to have already found its niche. I’m predicting a solid -40% hold for a gross of $6 million in third place. The rest of the top five should also see similarly solid holds as the likely fourth and fifth place films, No Way Home and Death on the Nile, respectively, each have already carved out their own spaces in the box office ecosystem. No Way Home will likely have a bigger drop than usual, having to share its comic book fan audience with The Batman, but its broader appeal will likely keep it holding well with around a -30% hold for a gross of $4 million. Meanwhile, Death on the Nile (which was recently reported to have a likely third film in development for Disney+ and/or Hulu, fascinatingly), like Dog appeals to a different kind of audience than The Batman and thus shouldn’t have much of its audience drawn away. I’m expecting about a -45% hold for a gross of $2.47 million to round out the top five.
As for the rest of the top ten, Sing 2 will be continuing its phenomenal run with another likely hold of about -20%. This would have it grossing $1.76 million in sixth place. Jackass Forever is likely to follow with a potential -45% hold and a gross of $1.7 million, though I could easily see it dropping more steeply in the wake of The Batman. Meanwhile, Marry Me, appealing to the complete opposite demographic of The Batman, will likely hold nicely with a -45% and $1.03 million in eighth place.
Finishing off the top ten, we find the two under $1 million earners, and it’s once again a tale of two box offices. In ninth, we’re likely to find Cyrano, which will be ending its run pretty soon on with a whimper. I could be wrong here as MGM may plan to boost its theater count, but I’m am inclined to think that won’t do much for the film. Having debuted to mediocre numbers last weekend, even a solid hold of (likely) -35% will only allow it to gross $897K. I already ranted about it in my post about last weekend, but Cyrano could have done (and deserves to do) so much better. Unfortunately, it was the victim of a shoddy release plan. Meanwhile, Scream will likely be rounding out the top ten with a similar gross of $871K, but will be ending its run on a high note, likely passing $80 million domestic by the end of the weekend having already nearly sextupled its budget with a sequel on the way. It’s a fascinating coda with which to bookend the top ten.
As for the specialty market, we’ll continue to take a look at our current arthouse champions, The Worst Person in the World and Drive My Car, though there may not be all that much to tell (especially since Drive My Car just debuted on HBO Max). The real story will likely be that of West Side Story, which is set to expand into wide release again this weekend as it debuts on Disney+ and HBO Max simultaneously, hoping to get as much exposure as possible as Oscar voting heats up. If all goes well, especially given that Ariana DeBose as ‘Anita’ is the frontrunner for Best Supporting Actress, West Side Story would pop into the top ten again, but we’ll just have to wait and see. Can’t way to discuss it on Sunday!