I promise to get away from this Watchmen coverage very soon, but people had hyped this movie up so high that it was probably never going to meet expectations, and a high visibility failure in this economy needs to be covered. This movie is a financial failure. Fanboys might have liked it, the first weekend gross looked good, but for what it cost, this movie is just another disappointing flop.
In fact, it couldn't even beat Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's Race to Witch Mountain. Complaints I've seen about our (critics/columnists) comparisons between Watchmen and 300 don't make much sense, mostly because people don't understand why they are being compared in the first place. Both films were directed by Zack Snyder, both were based on popular graphic novels during a time when graphic novels are a very hot property, both had a very wide release, both were rated 'R', and both opened in early March. The size of the release and the rating in particular made this movie more interested to watch than the subject matter.
Watchmen opened in a little over 3600 theaters to a domestic gross of $55.5 million, down from projections in the mid-60s and fantasies of low 70s. 300 opened in 3000 theaters to $70.9 million domestic. It was hoped that Watchmen would match and even surpass 300, but it didn't even come close.
I'm not going to address foreign receipts today because of complex distribution agreements. Fox is getting something like 8%, and Paramount even more than that. For now just comparing domestic gross will probably be enough.
With Watchmen opening down 21% from 300, we knew right away that the film was in serious trouble. It wasn't clear though what kind of "legs" the movie would have. Some movies open low but stay in the top 5 for longer than most of the competition, slowly racking up good numbers over time. This is why The Dark Knight had a ridiculously huge opening and still made a lot of money, but didn't come close to challenging Titanic for the highest grosser of all time. Titanic didn't open like Dark Knight did, but it held onto the top spot for a heck of a lot longer.
This past weekend was going to tell us if Snyder's baby would have staying power, and the answer, sadly, is not so much. Not really a no, but not a yes either.
300 pulled in another 32.7 million in its second weekend, but Watchmen, true to the first weekend results, managed only 17.9 million (45.2% off the pace of 300.) And there's your answer.
Not only did Watchmen fail to live up to 300's opening, it's also falling faster than 300 did. I thought there was a good chance that Watchmen would fall to third, but it did manage to eek out a second place finish against top grosser Race to Witch Mountain ($25 million on a budget of $25 million in 3100 theaters) and third place The Last House on the Left ($14.6m in 2400 theaters.)
This actually goes back to what I've been saying about spending too much money on risky film ventures. Witch Mountain will make a profit in the theater whereas Watchmen will not. And when, by the way, is Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) going to get some richly deserved credit? This is the second movie in a row that he's opened to #1 and the second in a row that's going to make an easy profit. He may not win an Oscar and he may not be headlining a $200 million tentpole (basically what Watchmen was supposed to be) but he's out there quietly building a reputation as a guy who can open small-to-moderate sized family films in ways that few other people can.
There's also the little problem of Watchmen losing to The Last House in the Left on Friday night.
All-in-all what you're looking at is this:
Cost to make: $150 million 10 Day gross: $135.5 million After theater's cut: $74.5 million After Fox's cut: $68.3 million After Paramount: $51.3 - 34.1 million. Unaccounted marketing costs: $50 million
Bad news for Warner Brothers, a big disappointment all around. Some fanboys reportedly thought that Snyder was too faithful to the graphic novel, audiences unfamiliar with the source material didn't get it and some even walked out, and it turns out that it also has no real staying power.
WB can forget about a DVD windfall, they'll need very strong DVD sales just to avoid losing money on Watchmen.