EDITORIAL: Comic Book Movies & The Box Office

EDITORIAL: Comic Book Movies & The Box Office

We've all seen them..or even been a part of them - debates about which CBM is better. The Dark Knight vs Marvel's The Avengers vs Man of Steel and so on. But where do the financial earnings factor in? Just what does a CBM's box office take mean?

We've all seen them. Or even been a part of them - debates about which CBM is better. "The Dark Knight" vs "Marvel's The Avengers" vs "Man of Steel" and so on. You have your DC fans and Marvel fans and even "Nolanites".

These debates go on for pages on some sites. Some fans exchange mature barbs while others resort to name calling. But often times they boil down to one thing - the box office. How much did the film make? After all, if a film grossed a billion dollars worldwide, that must make it the better movie, right? Let's look at that starting with...


Fans often associate the quality of a film with how big it opens its first weekend. As if opening huge is a testament to just how fantastic it is. But that's not the case at all. How could it be - the film hadn't opened yet. No one saw it before that weekend except for, in some cases, the critics.

And that's really all we have to go by beforehand, the reviews. Sites like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes provide unique rating systems summarizing what critics think of a film. Some moviegoers swear by these reviews, some dismiss them altogether.

So if a record breaking opening weekend isn't a reflection of the film itself what does it mean? Easy. It means audiences were really pumped to see it.

It means once that teaser trailer was released 7 or 8 months ago, people marked the release date on their calendar.

And when the full length trailer followed a couple months later, excitement grew into full blown hype.

Opening weekend numbers just tell you how eager audiences were to see the film.

Below are the top ten opening weekend performers as listed at Box Office Mojo.

1. Marvel's The Avengers - $207,438,708
2. Iron Man 3 - $174,144,585
3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 - $169,189,427
4. The Dark Knight Rises - $160,887,295
5. The Dark Knight - $158,411,483
6. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire - $158,074,286
7. The Hunger Games - $152,535,747
8. Spider-Man 3 - $151,116,516
9. The Twilight Saga: New Moon - $142,839,137
10. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 - $141,067,634

It's no surprise they're almost entirely follow ups or sequels. Audiences enjoyed the previous film and couldn't wait to see the next installment. Maybe this is where the argument "It's only the first one" comes from.

When the first film of a potential franchise underperforms, some fans are quick to defend it because "it's only part one" of a potential trilogy, (or four-parter if you're "The Amazing Spider-Man"). While sequels traditionally have the bigger openings, there are "first ones" who have had equal, if not better, success.

Look at the top twenty openers and you'll find four "first ones" that cracked the coveted $100 million mark over their respective weekends.

Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" opened to $114M way back in 2002. Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" topped that with $116M in 2010. Just this past summer Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel" opened with its own $116M. And "The Hunger Games" opened to an incredible $152M in 2012. (Third all time back then).

All four films beat out sequels like "Toy Story 3", "Shrek 2" and "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire". "Hunger Games" is even in the top ten.

So, again, it comes down to the anticipation for the film, be it part one or part four. A big opening is a "Job well done" for the studios' marketing departments.


This is where the film is forced to speak for itself. Where studios find out how audiences really feel. How a film performs in the weeks after opening is a true measure of its merit. This has more to do with longevity than numbers. But the total amount at the end of the run can be misleading.

Films can have a huge opening then completely fall off, having made a bulk of it's money right out the gates. For example, three of the "Twilight Saga" films opened to at least $130M but neither were able to surpass $300M domestically.

Traditionally with a $100M opening, $300M domestically is a given. Of the twenty-six films that broke the $100M mark in their first weekend, only seven failed to reach $300M. (Three of them being "Twilight").

Now look at "Iron Man" in 2008. It brought in $98M its first weekend on its way to $318M domestically. It spent nearly two months in the top ten.


It isn't enough to open big. A good movie has legs. It creates positive word of mouth.

To be fair, the "Twilight Saga" did much better in foreign markets such as France and Australia, holding the top spot for several weeks. The sequels averaged $700M worldwide.

One way to determine what audiences think of a film is its ranking after a month into release.

Here's a list of the top ten grossing CBMs, when they were released and where they were four weeks after opening #1. It also shows how long they stayed at #1.

1. Marvel's The Avengers (5/4/12) - Three weeks at #1. Fourth week: 2nd
2. The Dark Knight (7/18/08) - Four weeks at #1.
3. The Dark Knight Rises (7/20/12) - Three weeks at #1. Fourth week: 3rd
4. Iron Man 3 (5/3/13) - Two weeks at #1. Fourth week: 5th
5. Spider-Man (5/3/02) - Two weeks at #1. Fourth week: 2nd
6. Spider-Man 2 (6/30/04) - Two weeks at #1. Fourth week: 4th
7. Spider-Man 3 (5/4/07) - Two weeks at #1. Fourth week: 3rd
8. Iron Man (5/2/08) - Two weeks at #1. Fourth week: 3rd
9. Iron Man 2 (5/7/10) - Two weeks at #1. Fourth week: 4th
10. Man of Steel (6/14/13) - One week at #1. Fourth week: 7th

There are a number of things to consider with this list such as when the films were released and competition. It's no coincidence Warner Bros. chose late July for the Batman films, having the tail end of the summer to themselves. It definitely paid off.

Then there's Sony and Marvel Studios opting for May releases, choosing to kick off the summer. But what is competition if not the chance for a strong film to prove itself? If a studio has a solid movie the audience will reward it. A good movie will beat out newcomers, even if marginally. It'll hold its ground until it's eventually dethroned.

And longevity doesn't necessary mean staying at #1, but how long it sticks around after it's knocked from the top spot. Take "Spider-Man 2" for example:

It was released in the middle of the summer of '04. In addition to holding the top spot for two weeks it also managed to gross $373M domestically against films like Will Smith's "I, Robot", Will Ferrell in "Anchorman", Jerry Bruckheimer's "King Arthur" and Matt Damon's "The Bourne Supremacy".

Competition shouldn't be an excuse for why someone's favorite CBM didn't do as well as hoped. If it truly is a solid film audiences will flock to see it week after week. Great films withstand competition.


No, a ginormous box office run isn't proof one CBM is better than another. But how it performs does prove which ones general audiences enjoyed more. Well…to some degree. People bring up the "Transformers" franchise.

While those aren't the smartest films and Michael Bay isn't everyone's favorite director in the whole wide world, the franchise delivers what it promises - giant fighting robots.

"Bayformers" (as fans call the movies) are roller coaster rides. And when's the last time you needed your brain to enjoy a roller coaster?

The movie business is exactly that, a business. While a billion dollars worldwide doesn't mean a CBM is now the best ever made, it does guarantee more will get made. And, whether you're a DC fan, Marvel fan, a "Nolanite" or just love CBMs, isn't that what matters most?

Thanks for reading and have a safe New Year's.
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