In “Superman Returns,” there’s a scene where Superman makes his, well, return known to the people of Earth and they erupt in cheers. Judging from the reactions many of CBR’s own staff observed at theatres around America, this was a feeling not restricted to those fictional characters on the big screen. But were those audiences enough to score “Superman Returns” a big opening?
Almost, but not quite.
Early estimates put “Superman Returns'” opening weekend at $52.2 million, certainly not a bad film opening, and combined with box office receipts from Wednesday and Thursday, the film has brought in $84.2 million thus far, which means the film will easily cruise past the $100 million mark this week. Those numbers sound impressive, especially compared to the atrocious returns on the last Superman film, “Superman IV: Quest For Peace,” a film that managed only $5 million in it’s opening weekend and earned just shy of $16 million by the end of it’s time in the theatres. When compared to Warner’s more recent super hero success, “Batman Begins,” “Superman Returns” outstripped that film by approximately $4 million (“Batman Begins” saw a $48.7 ,million opening in the US). It’s certainly a healthy sign that WB’s superhero films continue to attract larger (or perhaps more frequent) audiences, but the simple fact is that “Superman Returns” is apparently falling below expectations.
In analyzing the opening day numbers and Friday’s box office numbers, we’ve made note of how “Superman Returns” should be seen as the start of a new franchise and not as the continuation of one, so comparisons to “Batman Begins,” “Fellowship Of The Ring,” and other franchise launching films seems more appropriate. It’s also important to note that July 4th, a national American holiday, falls on a Tuesday this year meaning many people still have to work Monday, meaning it’s not your typical holiday weekend. Due to the holiday, this could mean a big Tuesday box office for “Superman Returns.”
With that all in mind, it’s still hard not to find the opening weekend’s numbers disappointing. With the very heavy promotion for the film, including over 20 unique television spots and a new trailer for the film debuting in June, as well as fast food and other media tie-ins, Superman is everywhere. “Newsweek” recently interviewed Bryan Singer who reported his cost for the film was $204 million (only slightly above “Spider-Man 2,” if we’re looking at large comic book film budgets) and that the other $60 million can be attributed to previous costs (including fees paid to Tim Burton and Nicholas Cage’s aborted “Superman Lives”). While that’s certainly lower than the $300 million reported in other outlets, it’s still an expensive film and the coming week will be difficult for the film as “Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” debuts on July 7th and already has huge advance buzz that will assure its dominance at the box office.
Last year’s big July 4th weekend launch was Tom Cruise’s “War Of The Worlds,” which opened to $64.8 million, numbers that would have pushed “Superman Returns” even closer to $100 million in it’s five day cycle had it achieved that opening weekend. You’ll invariably see comparisons to “Spider-Man 2,” which managed a $40 million opening day and $88 million opening weekend, so we’ll say that while Superman may not have reached the same heights as Spider-Man, those numbers will be far more relevant when compared to “Superman’s Still Here” or whatever the inevitable sequel will be called.
So what’s next for “Superman Returns?” The film should benefit tremendously from fans going to see the film a second time in IMAX 3D and the film seems to still have positive word of mouth as well as positive reviews, even if some fan reviews are tempered with a “good, not great” disclaimer. This coming weekend should still be strong for “Superman Returns,” though the surprisingly strong performance of “Devil Wears Prada” has lead some to speculate that it will continue to court the female demographic also being courted by the romance in “Superman Returns.” While “Superman Returns” isn’t doing quite the blockbuster numbers hoped for by many in the industry, it definitely isn’t a failure. Strong reviews, a good box office and strong word of mouth should provide some legs for the film and ensure strong DVD sales.