"Superman Returns" At The Box Office

As you well know, "Superman Returns" debuted at the box office on Wednesday and a lot was expected of the film. With a reported 300 million dollar budget, and Warner Bros making the film its summer tent pole flick, a big opening day was anticipated by the company and needed in the wake of WB's earlier box office dud, "Poseidon." The release of the highly-anticipated "Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" next week also threatens to compete for much of the same audience, so all eyes were on Wednesday. The result?

A $21 Million opening day.

On the surface that number seems a bit paltry in light of this year's successful "X-Men: The Last Stand" opening day (over $40 million on a Friday) and "Spider-Man 2," which also opened on a Wednesday, with a record breaking $40 million opening day. In terms of Wednesday openings, "Superman Returns" ranks eighth all-time, and falls at number 29 in terms of high grossing openings. While the numbers may seem dismal to some, there are some factors that need to be considered in interpreting these numbers.

Firstly, the United States east coast was ravaged by storms on Wednesday, no doubt dissuading many from attending showings of the film. Next, we need to consider the running time of the film, because at 2hrs, 34 minutes, the film can be shown less per day than a film such as "X-Men: The Last Stand," which had a running time of 1hr 44 minutes. Additionally, when looking at the openings of similar genre films on a Wednesday, "Superman Returns" performed better than most initial franchise films. Last year's "Batman Begins" opened to rave reviews (as did "Superman"), but only managed $15 million on its opening day, though it went to make over $200 million at the box office and sell steadily on DVD. Even the first "Pirates Of The Caribbean" -- which debuted in 2003 and went on to make over $300 million domestically -- opened with a less than impressive $13 million. Even the behemoth known as "Lord Of The Rings" debuted to only $18 million on its opening day, while grossing well over $300 million domestically. As a launch to a new franchise, "Superman Returns" does seem on track to succeed.

What's the lesson? The opening day may not be as important as the opening week. "Spider-Man 2's" opening day of over $40 million is impressive and allowed the film to net an amazing (pun intended) $377 million dollars, but "Star Wars: Episode 1" opened to only $28 million and managed to make $431 million dollars, well besting "Spider-Man 2."

It's been 19 years since Superman graced the big screen and while anticipation is high, this opening day in no way constitutes a failure. It may not garner the media attention of the latest "X-Men" film's box office gross, but the Man of Steel will show his mettle this holiday weekend, when it is sure to be viewed by families looking to spend time together and professionals whose day jobs prevent them from attending weekday movie shows.

While Warner Bros has expressed pleasure with these opening numbers, and must also feel confident due to the almost universally positive reviews, it's hard to imagine that the recent media blitz didn't lead some to imagine a far larger opening day, especially with 3900 theaters showing the film. It's been hard to go anywhere without seeing some kind of Superman promotion, and that's why you may see many begrudge the film's first day success. As mentioned earlier, this opening weekend is the real test and while "Superman Returns" will undoubtedly be #1 at the box office (unless "Devil Wears Prada" fans rally like none before), the question is how well it can do before Disney's venerable "Pirates" franchise returns to theatres. It's not unlike the battle between Warner Bros' "Harry Potter" and Disney's "Chronicles Of Narnia" battle last November. Both films did well, but we also saw "Narnia" eat away at much of the young magician's box office when it debuted.

Keep this in mind: "Shrek 2" opened on a Wednesday with an $11 million debut, but managed to set the single day record with a $44 million Saturday. "Superman Returns'" never ending battle will continue through the weekend and may well turn out to be even more successful than some might expect, based on reactions to opening day numbers.

Stay tuned to CBR News for more on "Superman Returns" and take a moment to check out our extensive coverage of the film.

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